§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. James Stuart.]
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha (Devonport)
My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, in opening the Debate, following the recent tenour of Ministerial speeches, gave the sober but confident assurance that our position was improving. Every month, he thought, it would get better and better. A feeling of optimism is undoubtedly being engendered in the country. It is in marked contrast 252 with the atmosphere of apprehension which prevailed when the last war Debate took place, in February. The nation was then suffering under the first shocks of the Japanese aggression. Sudden blows, unexpected blows, heavy blows, were being dealt upon us. The "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse," two great capital ships, which were to be the spearhead of a considerable fleet, were, in the absence of air cover, sunk by torpedo. Malaya, Singapore, and other parts of our own Empire in the Far East and of the Dutch Empire were being swallowed. Everywhere there was a clamant call that we should profit by our experiences. Our military organisation, our naval tactics, our Colonial administration, were all being called into question. It was natural and fitting that there should be serious concern. But that mood has been altered.
Have the facts also been altered? Is there ground for this new optimism? If we look at the fighting in Europe, we may feel encouraged by the valiant and zestful manner in which the Russians have begun their spring offensive. It may be, of course, that the Russians will win the war in Europe by their own martial efforts alone. It would be prudent, however, and in accordance with Stalin's own judgment, to take a more restrained view. To look at one front, however, is to leave half the world out of account. The division of the globe into hemispheres may be a geographical convenience, but it is a strategical absurdity. The Japanese came into the war at a critical moment in the German fortunes. They struck at the time when it was becoming apparent that the siege of Moscow would fail. Was that the only occasion during this war on which they will be in a position to help the Germans? Wars, it has been said, are decided not by their episodes but by their tendencies. Is there anything to lead us to believe that the tendencies have suddenly altered? Why is it said that our position month by month is becoming stronger? In what respect? In respect of territory being added to our possessions? Surely not. The Japanese are still advancing. In respect of manpower? When the war broke out in the Far East we could claim that four-fifths of the population of the world were massed on our side. China alone has one-fifth of the population of the world, and she is now cut off from the help of the United Nations.
253 It is not, then, in territory or in manpower that we are growing more powerful. Is it in armies or in fleets? We are losing portions of these every day, and the equipment of at least 250,000 soldiers on the side of the United Nations has been acquired by Japan—enough to conduct their own offensive. Many ships have been lost. No, Sir, I do not think the challenge has diminished in its seriousness, and I think it would be a mistake if the country or the Government thought so. It might be responsible for diminishing our effort and for our failing to make certain necessary reforms. If we can make or talk of making a second front in the West in order to help the Russians, surely the Japanese can make a second front in the East in order to embarrass the Russians. They are better situated to do so than they were a month ago, and if their progress continues at its present pace, they will be in a better position still to do so a month hence.
it these tendencies are admitted to be in operation, how can we reverse them? That is our problem. Not all these calamities that have befallen us can be placed at the door of the Government, although some of them, it may be, can. The object of those who, like my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg), have proposed certain reorganisations, is that we should put ourselves in a position to resist these tendencies. What is the first requirement? It is to realise that we are not fighting the Germans alone, but a formidable Axis combination of Powers in the East and in the West, acting in concert and synchonising their efforts at important junctures of the war. We must, then, in order to meet a unified strategy, have a unified strategy of our own. Does that exist? My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister yesterday called attention to the difficulties. These difficulties arise from the fact that a number of separate nations are engaged on our side and that geographical distances are interposed between them. But to win this war we must overcome those difficulties.
It was the purpose of the Prime Minister in visiting the United States to devise a method of continuous co-operation. It is not yet in good working order. The various Allies speak with disunited voices. Stalin has been expressing the opinion for months past that there should be a second front. General 254 Sikorski has expressed the same view. Ministers in this country have retaliated by rejecting the idea. [HON. MEMBERS: "No"]. In the past they have done so by discrediting the idea. Certainly they have done so in the past. I could produce many quotations in support of my statement. That is the fact, and I shall revert to the subject. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister expressed satisfaction with what was being done for Australia. Dr. Evatt, in an outspoken speech, stated that he was amazed at the ignorance of the British Government as to what was happening in the Pacific. No complaint can be made, and it is a sign of the strength of the British family of nations, if people say what they think, but it does indicate that we have a long way to go before we can secure a united strategy, and it is urgent that we should.
If we cannot obtain a united strategy, we can, at any rate in specific theatres of war, have a single command. Now what is the story of the command in the South-West Pacific? I ask hon. Members to follow the vicissitudes of General Wavell. He is moved from Egypt and the Middle East, which he well understood, to India. After a short time in India he is appointed to the South-West Pacific command, which then was to include Burma. A few days before the fall of Java, Burma was excluded from the command, and General Wavell was returned to India. There were three generals appointed to command in Singapore in swift succession. There were three generals appointed to command in Burma in swift succession. This is bewildering. It cannot create confidence among the fighting troops, and it does not reveal assurance and consistency of purpose.
If it be necessary to improve our inter-Allied arrangements, it is even more necessary to improve our own internal arrangements for joint planning. I do not accept the view that it is necessary to that end to appoint an additional member of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, but I do think it necessary to make other reforms such as those advocated, particularly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and reinforced in the felicitous and profoundly considered speech of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Westmorland (Colonel Stanley) yesterday.
255 What is the problem with which we have to deal? Those who in pre-war days advocated the establishment of a Ministry of Defence did so for one or both of the following reasons: They wished to see evolved a Wehrmacht, a single Fighting Service, or they wished to simplify the administration and join together under a single head various branches of activity common to all the three Services. In neither of these senses have we a Ministry of Defence to-day. Now we have been told that there is no duty which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister performs as Minister of Defence which he could not perform as Prime Minister. My own view is that it would be better if we had a Ministry of Defence for the reasons which I have just given, but as this is considered to be impracticable, I will deal with the situation as it is.
There are three separate Service Ministers, each one of whom, by the Constitution, is made responsible to the Crown and Parliament for the conduct of his office. While that remains the constitutional position, the status and dignity of these Ministers have been diminished. They do not participate in war debates; they do not make announcements about naval, military or Air Force successes. Power without responsibility may have terrible consequences, but it is degrading indeed to have responsibility without power.
The first reform that should be made is either to acknowledge that these Defence Ministers should discharge their constitutional responsibilities or to demote them to the status of Under-Secretaries. That is the first reform which would put our war machine upon an understandable basis.
Just as there are three Service Ministers there are three Chiefs of Staff. We have not a General Staff in the German sense; we have three separate Chiefs of Staff. In their individual capacity they are the advisers of their own Ministers, who have to take other advice as well. On the Army Council, for instance, there are other members concerned with other branches of military activity, all of which have to be considered. The Minister is made responsible because he has to take a general view of supply questions and man-power questions as 256 well as of purely technical operations. The Chiefs of Staff then advise their Ministers on the operative military side of War Office policy, but in their corporate capacity they advise the War Cabinet, and it is vital that a clear-cut distinction should be preserved between what is their impartial, undiluted military opinion and what is a political decision. That demarcation, which was drawn carefully by Lord Hankey, who is mainly responsible for the procedure, has been blurred and smudged.
There was, in the early days of the war, set up a Military Co-ordination Committee. The War Cabinet of the day, however, was most solicitous to preserve its own responsibility, which is indefeasible. The War Cabinet is responsible for the conduct of the war and therefore must receive the advice of the Chiefs of Staff, as I say, in an unbiased and objective manner, direct. There was set up a Military Co-ordination Committee, but it dealt only with such matters as did not concern in practice the great policy of the war. It did not, as the Prime Minister said at the time, alter the normal channel by which the Chiefs of Staff Committee submit their reports direct to the War Cabinet. That was the Military Co-ordination Committee. What have we now? It is no longer the Coordination Committee, but we have a system, according to this White Paper, by which the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence superintends, on behalf of the War Cabinet, the work of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. He superintends their work, whatever that may mean—in practice it may mean that he takes the chair—or he is represented, as the White Paper says, by a very competent and highly respected soldier, General Ismay. But no other member of the Chiefs of Staff Committee is representing anybody. The C.I.G.S. does not represent the Secretary of State for War, and the First Sea Lord does not represent the First Lord. They come there as scientists would, to consider a problem without any influence. But to have this particular member of the Chiefs of Staff Committee sitting there in a representative capacity is to vitiate the clear stream of advice which it is intended should flow to the War Cabinet.
Then, in superintending the Chiefs of Staff and their work, the Prime Minister is assisted by a Defence Committee. The 257 old Military Co-ordination Committee did not superintend the work of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. It merely relieved the War Cabinet of secondary matters, and all matters of first-class importance were dealt with by the War Cabinet in the presence of the Chiefs of Staff. How did those modifications come about? The story is not without interest. This is not new. It happened at a time of crisis and escaped almost undetected. Lord Chat-field was suddenly displaced as Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence on the ground, I believe, that his office was redundant, and in April of 1940, or it may have been before, the present Prime Minister, who was then First Lord of the Admiralty, succeeded Lord Chatfield as Chairman of the Co-ordination Committee. That was the first change that was made. My right hon. Friend, although not Minister of Defence, became Chairman of the Co-ordination Committee.
What was the next step? I will quote the words of the late Prime Minister. The present Prime Minister, the First Lord of that day,suggested to me (that is, to Mr. Neville Chamberlain) that in order to make his assistance to the Cabinet more effective, it would be a good thing that he should be put into closer contact with the Chiefs of Staff. I thought my right hon. Friend's idea was a good one.I think it was an extremely bad one. Why should we suddenly have the position in which a political Minister in charge of one of the Service Departments is to be put in closer touch with the Chiefs of Staff?Accordingly, after discussing the question fully with the other Service Ministers, arrangements were made under which my right hon. Friend is authorised by the Cabinet on behalf of the Military Co-ordination Committee to give guidance and direction to the Chiefs of Staff Committee"—We now have achieved the position that the Chiefs of Staff, who are military, professional men, are to be given guidance and direction by a political Minister.who will prepare plans to carry out the objectives which are given to them by him."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th May, 1940; col. 1084, Vol. 360.]So it was before or about the time of the disaster of Norway that this change was made, and I do not think you can divorce the almost unending and unbroken sequence of strategic disasters from this mixture of the political and 258 military elements in your war machine. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham that the House of Commons must not shirk its responsibility in this matter. We have a duty to the future of this nation, and we ought not to allow to continue a system which is so vicious. That is the story and origin of this development, and it becomes, in my judgment, the duty of the House of Commons to separate firmly and finally the military from the political elements in the direction of this war.
How otherwise can you know who told General Wavell to stop at Benghazi? Was that a military decision? General Wavell's reputation to some extent depends upon it, as does the whole subsequent course of the war, for it was that action which lost us the opportunity to annihilate the Italian Empire at the most propitious moment. I do not know who told him. Who decided to send an Army to Greece without adequate air support—an impossible operation? It is no excuse to say that we delayed the Germans by 12 days. If they had gone down in lorries, they could not have been much quicker. Who took that decision? We are told it had the concurrence of the Chiefs of Staff, but concurrence is very different from advice. When a man of great political experience and dialectical skill sits with Service men who are not accustomed to the careful use of language and the deployment of argument, you do not know whether the substance that comes out of these discussions is diluted or undiluted. Who decided to defend Crete? Who decided that Crete was defensible when the mainland had gone? Who decided that Singapore should be defended? Under this system you will never know unless there is an inquiry, and an inquiry is refused. An inquiry has been asked for as to what happened in London, not what happened in Singapore. The House must discharge its duty in this particular. Things have, indeed, reached a very extraordinary pass when in Debates on the conduct of the war, in which we try to discharge our historic responsibilities, we are deprived not only of the benefit of the Service Ministers, but cannot have the advantage of the presence of the Minister of Defence. This matter has not only to be elucidated. It has to be settled.
I leave the theoretical field for the practical field. There is a reform which 259 I have consistently advocated and which I will advocate again, because I consider it to be urgent. The Russians have opened their offensive at Kharkov. The accounts of eye-witnesses tell us that it was opened by a swarm of Stormovik dive-bombers which shattered the defences and made a pathway for the advancing army. The onslaught upon Kerch was preceded by 2,000 Stukas, roaring over the Russian positions. They made a pathway for the German advance. There is no such weapon in our Army, still less is there such a weapon under Army control. The Japanese swiftly passed down through Malaya. How did they do it? With a machine specially designed for Army use—a dive-bomber. Singapore was subdued, then came Java, and a whole Empire was taken by modem tactics, not by a superfluity of arms. We come to Burma. It is six months since Japan made war. We have had an opportunity of steadying ourselves. What do we find? General Alexander, who was the youngest, and who is certainly one of the ablest, generals in the British Army, called upon to lead a retreat which in its circumstances does not differ much in glory from Xenophon's retreat from Persia to the Asia Minor coast. His soldiers have had their transport shattered, they are short of food, they are short of water, their munition dumps were destroyed by dive-bombers. For a fortnight our soldiers never saw a British machine. They have been wading through swamps up to their necks; they have been living on unripe limes which they picked from the trees; they have been climbing mountains; they have been harassed in the jungle by serpents and mosquitoes, and they have had no air cover at all. Is this to be tolerated nearly three years after the outbreak of war? If you cannot give an Army this protection, you ought not to send it into these positions. You may say "We have air superiority; we have destroyed Rostock." Yes, but the Japanese are destroying a British Army, its health when they do not destroy its limbs, because the Army is not given weapons which are essential for its own defence, let alone for the achievement of victory. This is not fair, and it must be stopped. The Army must be given proper air protection.
We next come to the Navy. See how naval tactics have been modified. In the 260 Battle of the Coral Sea, it is no longer the battleship which is the central citadel around which all the protecting craft are ranged; it is the aircraft-carrier. We struck at the "Prinz Eugen" on Sunday, but the "Prinz Eugen" did not sink. It is strange how repeatedly our ships sink when struck by enemy torpedo-bombers and dive-bombers and how we fail to sink German ships. We lost three destroyers South of Crete, through the attack of dive-bombers, a week ago. We raked the decks of four German destroyers accompanying the "Prinz Eugen," but they did not sink. The Navy must be given its share of air superiority. These are the weapons with which wars are won or lost. With dive-bombers you conquer a whole country, with long-distance bombers you obliterate a single town. There must be a new balance between the strategic and technical requirements of air power.
If I raise this matter again, it is because my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Privy Seal, who has injected a fresh spirit into the Government, opened a new chapter of hope in what he said at Bristol last week. He wishes to find an outlet for the militant spirit of the British people, which is so praiseworthy, and he looks forward to the day when we can open a second front. I agree with my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Westmorland that you cannot have strategy by clamour. There is no harm in arguing these matters, but the decision must rest with the Government if that expedition is to be undertaken, whether in the immediate or in the more distant future. Do not let it embark unless these modem tactical lessons have been mastered. Do not let the Army once again go, into action without air support. The opening of a second front would be perhaps the biggest undertaking in the whole of British military history. We have never sent an army to act in such circumstances alone on the Continent. Our small Expeditionary Force in 1914, and again at the commencement of this war, was a subsidiary force. We did not have a Continental army; indeed the creation of a Continental army was opposed almost up to the outbreak of war. We had only taken the initial steps in the creation of such an army by conscription and by the establishment of a Ministry of Supply. Ours was a subsidiary army. It could not have decided the fate of France. But 261 if we are to open a second front, let us make no mistake about the responsibility which the Government are taking on their shoulders. It is a very considerable and weighty responsibility, and the Government must not be hounded into the discharge of it. Strategically, of course, the conception is sound. It is, indeed, most regrettable that the Russians have had to fight all this time, for nearly a year, without our being able to undertake a second front, but worse than undertaking it would be to undertake it and fail.
I genuinely wish my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Privy Seal good luck in this desire to take an offensive action, but I beg him to do this. There is interposed between him, as a War Cabinet Minister, and the Chiefs of Staff to-day a Defence Committee. He is not a member of that Committee. Many of us trust his judgment. Certainly, I do. I beg of him to get rid of this redundancy and this excrescence so that he may follow arguments at all stages and not only at the last stage. One can well imagine what happens at a War Cabinet meeting. When a Minister wishes to go over procedure which has already been covered, the answer would be given at once, "But we went through this very carefully both in the Chiefs of Staff Committee and again in the Defence Committee." Some Ministers may be prepared to tolerate that position. I know, however, that my right hon. Friend, who has an open mind, will look into this procedure and look into the criticisms that have been made. Perhaps in my case they have been made too heatedly, and if so, I apologise, but they have been made with a genuine desire to help our country and to promote greater efficiency in the conduct of the war.
§ Petty Officer Alan Herbert (Oxford University)
Twenty-five years ago, when I was Secretary of the Oxford Union, there was a young, shy undergraduate, who always sat till the end of the debate, and made a speech if he could. It was my duty to go to him afterwards to find out his name, but I always forgot it. I am now glad to congratulate my constituent, and, in a sense, pupil, on the style and power of his oration, at least. It is not for me to go very far with him into the higher fields of strategy, but I want to say a few words about it.
Although many speeches have dealt with the question whether or not it would be right to alter the staff machinery, I do not 262 believe that is the real subject of the Debate. The real subject of the Debate is, have we faith in the Prime Minister, or have we not? We have now come to the stage where some hon. Members say plainly that they have not. If they feel that, it is right they should say it. But what is the charge against the Prime Minister? It is that a political Minister, as the right hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) described him, "butts into" strategic affairs. But if the Prime Minister butts into strategic affairs, it is not very surprising. He has been a fighting soldier. He has been First Lord of the Admiralty, he was the first Air Secretary, he has been Secretary of State for War, and Minister of Munitions. If he "butts into" strategical affairs, it is not very surprising. By the way, I think I may say to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) that we were very glad in the last encounter that the political leader butted into strategic affairs; if he had not done so, we should not have had the convoy system, and many other things. But with the present Prime Minister, being the man he is and having had the experience he has, if he does "butt in," I am sure you will not stop him butting into strategic affairs by juggling with generals and committees and putting a new general here and a new committee there. This is a question of personality. You have to face that. Either you have faith in him and let him have the machinery he can work with, or you must say frankly that you do not want him any more. I hope that will not be the answer. Certainly, it will not be mine.
As this is a general Debate, may I make one or two general observations? I hope that after this Debate those outside who from time to time throw complimentary stones at the House will agree at least that there is a little life in the old dog—the House of Commons. I am getting rather tired of reading that we are the same band of jaded old men who were elected in 1935. For one thing, that is not true. We have seen some sad—and encouraging—figures recently I want to put it on record that there are now 170 new faces in the House since this Parliament was elected, and nearly 80 since the war began. We are renewing ourselves to a greater extent, I believe, than would be done at a General Election. After all, we have not yet reached the seventh year, which used to be the normal life of 263 a Parliament. Let us have rather less of this nonsense about the same old band of Members.
The second thing I want to say is this: We are all rightly proud of the essential soundness and sanity of our race, but from time to time we are strangely capable of manifestations of hysteria—I might say lunacy, harmless or otherwise. Hysteria is a flower of spring, and there is a good crop of it about at this moment. Take, for example, the astonishing popularity of the "astrologers." Some people think that this is a harmless lunacy, but I regard it as a rather serious manifestation, and I have written to the Home Secretary about it. There is a man called Lyndoe, for whom the war is practically won already, who wrote in the "People," on 3rd May—I have not the exact words with me—that:A week from to-day,that is, on May 10th,the Russians will start their real spring offensive.On 12th or 13th May the Russians did start a big offensive. I want to ask the Government whether anyone, whether he bases his prediction on the stars or on reason, ought to be able to state a week beforehand, almost to the very day, when our Allies are to launch their offensive?
§ Petty Officer Herbert
Going to the other end of the scale of craziness, I note that there is a thing called the "Gallup Poll." On the last occasion on which the constituents of the Gallup Poll were consulted, which was some few days ago, they were asked to say whether they thought the war could be won in 1942, in reply to which 40 per cent. said "Yes," 41 per cent. said "No," and 19 per cent.—the glorious 19—said "I do not know." 40 one way—41 the other. If such are the pusillanimous vacillations of opinion among the great People, are we surprised that His Majesty's Ministers have not yet given a confident answer to the question?
§ Mr. Vernon Bartlett (Bridgwater)
My hon. and gallant Friend would not, I hope, seek to compare the scientific inquiries of the Gallup Poll with the predictions of Lyndoe. I agree with him 264 that these astrologers are very dangerous people indeed, but, on the other hand, I think the Minister of Information would confirm that these scientific inquiries are of real value.
§ Petty Officer Herbert
The operative word is "scientific," which I have always questioned, because we are never told how many people are consulted or who they are. But I quite agree that these inquiries are at the other end of the scale of lunacy.
I say with great respect and with trepidation that I see some signs of spring fever in this House, especially in some of the speeches which have been made in this Debate. I take, for example, the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) who has spent so many hours of patient and devoted labour in his post as Chairman of the Select Committee that he seems almost unable to get out of the chair—the chair seems to be glued to him. He speaks now with such a weight of authority as, I suppose, has not been seen in any legislative assembly since Moses brought the Tablets down from the mountain. As a learned and wise statesman, and as a financier, I think he gave a most unbalanced picture. He spoke of a "steady series of defeats," and he was not talking of the last few months only, but of the whole course of the war since the fall of France—Norway and so on.
But is that really a true and reasonable picture of the last two and a half years? If one is attacked by a tiger, to say nothing of two, and remains erect at all, that, in my opinion, is a major victory. In the long catalogue of British misfortunes, for which the Prime Minister is said to be responsible, I do not think that the hon. Member omitted a single episode, except the Battle of Hastings and the wreck of the schooner "Hesperus." He might, I felt, have dealt a little longer on the Battle of Crécy; and I think if he reflects, he will find that the fall of Khartoum was owing to the bad influence of the Prime Minister—who was certainly about on that day. Anybody can say Singapore, Hong Kong, Rangoon and all the rest of it, but is it fair unless you also say Abyssinia, Somaliland, Libya—Abyssinia was mentioned yesterday only in parenthesis, yet it was one of the greatest feats of arms in our history—let me continue the list—Egypt, Syria, Iran, 265 Iraq and Madagascar? He gave not a word of credit for any of these things. My right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) spoke about territory lost. I do not think it matters much, but, as a matter of fact, I think if you did have a territorial stocktaking of the British possessions at the moment, you would find that we are in an immeasurably better position compared with 12 months ago.
§ Petty Officer Herbert
I have just given the list. But what is far more important than territory is that our strategic position in that part of the world is immensely stronger than it was. For heaven's sake do not take only one side of the picture. The man who was responsible for Hong Kong and Singapore is entitled also to say that he was responsible for Tobruk, Malta and the sinking of half of the Italian fleet. The man who sank the "Prince of Wales" and "Repulse," if he did, can also say, "I sank the Bismarck and the Graf Spee'." He is entitled to say, if we are going to have this stocktaking, "I am responsible for the fact that in the last 12 months the people of England have been able to sleep quietly in their beds, and that the wheels of industry have been able to revolve uninterruptedly while very much the reverse has been happening in Germany."
I gather that several people are claiming a copyright in regard to the Second Front. It used to be journalists and a few people who met at theatres and in Trafalgar Square. This is another of the lunacies. I complain of this idea that, unless honest citizens gather in Trafalgar Square and in theatres, the Government will never think of invading the Continent and attacking the enemy. I gather that the Leader of the House has now got the copyright. If there is to be any such idea, I would say that on 26th January, 1941—mark the date, for on that date it was called wishful thinking—a Member of this House wrote the following lines:(Just for a change, let us imagine that our enemies are muttering as follows): 266I therefore also claim a copyright in the second front; at all events the citizen may now rest assured that the idea has been brought to the notice of His Majesty's Ministers.
- What are the English up to? Where will the next blow fall?
- Look at our long, long seaboard: can we defend it all?
- Look at the conquered countries, nearly insane with spleen;
- Have we enough policemen to keep such a party clean?
- What is Herr Churchill planning in that relentless brain?
- Will he descend on Sicily? Will he come up through Spain?
- Will they sweep on to Tripoli, these horrible bearded men?
- Will they go through to Tunis—and what will the French do then?
- It's easy to land in Denmark. They might have a go through Greece.
- They might wriggle round by Russia; they might nibble up thro' Nice.
- You know, with the sea to serve them, they can land where they dam well like;
- And we, like rats in the midden, must wait till they choose to strike.
- You know, if they care to do it, they can blow Berlin to the sky;
- You know they've a million bombers. You know they have tanks that fly!
- You know they have five new gases, which kill with the speed of light:
- You know we have got no gas masks—and the Fuehrer is always right.
- But the Fuehrer wishes he knew, Fritz, and I wish that the Fuehrer knew—
- What are the English up to? What will Herr Churchill do?"
Another unfair critic, I thought, was the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes). It was said that in Napoleon's time every soldier had a field-marshal's baton in his knapsack.. How much more fortunate we are in this House, where almost every Member has the flag of an admiral of the fleet in his pocket as well. One of those is, I fancy, my hon. Friend. He talked a lot about Singapore. Few of the critics, I notice, ever say anything about Pearl Harbour, for which disaster, I suppose, the Prime Minister is responsible as for everything else. The hon. Member did mention it, but he quoted from a statement of President Roosevelt to the effect that the American Fleet would not have been able to help in any case. If that is correct, it is a queer thing that the Japanese came so far and took so much trouble to knock the American Fleet out. Another extraordinary thing that the hon. Member for Ipswich said was this—I am not quite sure whether the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport agrees about 267 this. The suggestion now apparently is that we ought to have evacuated Singapore. I have heard it whispered—and we may as well have these whispers out—that some general announced, I do not know how long before the disaster, that we ought to evacuate Singapore and that the political influences at home went against him. If I had been Prime Minister—I do not see any immediate danger of it—and a general had said to me as the Japs approached this great place on which we have spent so much time, money and blood, "We have 70,000 British, Dominion and Indian troops at this Base, and my advice to you is to evacuate it," I would have said," By God, Sir, no, it is too late to talk like that. We will fight. We have 70,000 troops there. They will give a good account of themselves. At all events, we are not going to surrender without a fight." If that is the sort of political influence which is complained of, I am bound to say that I should have found myself in the same error.
In the last war I was in the Naval Division which was designed and invented by the Prime Minister and sent by him to Antwerp, an expedition which was at the time derided but was undoubtedly sound. It was then sent to the Dardanelles, another terrible place, and there we certainly did not have the full equipment that is demanded now before anything is done. Our bombs were jam tins, and we did not have any modern devices—but we won in the end. What I want to say is that every year since that war finished that division has gathered together the remnants of the officers and men, and we have sent an invitation to the Prime Minister to come to our gathering. He has always been our most honoured guest, and he always will be. I am sure that same thing will be said about the units who come back from the Middle East, and even from Singapore. For that is the real mind of the soldier. They do not expect a victory every day. I believe that is true of the whole people at this moment.
This is not a vote of confidence, but I am sure it is a question of faith. I do not see, going about the river, and the shipyards, and dockyards, and the East End, people going about with long faces and "a sense of frustration," wondering what is going to happen after the war. I do not agree with the hon. 268 Member for Kidderminster that the people as a whole have a sense of frustration, a sense that nothing is happening. On the contrary, I find them cheerful, eager and optimistic—the right hon. Gentleman rather complains about that—and belligerent. They complain and grumble, of course, as is the right. and duty of every Briton, but their hearts are sound and they are eager, and I believe it is because they have faith in the leadership. G. K. Chesterton said—and I give this to the critics—that faith is the capacity to believe that which is demonstrably not true. It may be that kind of faith, but it is worth having in a leader of men and a leader of forces. It is a great defect of democracy, a great dilemma, that while on the one hand we are always saying "Give us a leader! Where are the giants of the past?" whenever a head shows itself well above the others, the instinct of so many is to knock it down again. Let us resist that tendency, unless we are very sure that we have another head to put in its place. I believe the people know that they have a great man; they are determined to keep him, and determined to deserve him—and so am I.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
The House has asked for information about Malaya and Burma and the war situation in general. The speech of the Deputy Prime Minister not only gave the House very little information but almost seemed designed to give the House very little information. The House has a right to demand it, the House has a duty to demand it, and the House must have it. There is plenty of information available. The Chancellor of the Duchy, returned from Singapore, has a great deal that he could tell us. There are reports available from Burma, and there will, of course, be more, and more information should be given. I think the House would like to know how many of the Burmese people were on our side and helped us actively and how many were actively engaged with the Japanese against our forces, a very important question indeed and one which will have to be answered.
I believe the reason why we are not having the information for which we have asked, and which it is our duty to obtain, is that the House has lost a great deal of its authority since the beginning of the reign of power of this Government, not because of the Government but because of 269 the way in which it was formed and the way it has been conducting its work, largely away from the House of Commons and not wanting to be bothered with the House of Commons. At the time when the Government was formed we were under the threat of an overwhelming military disaster. At that time many Members went into the Services, and many others went into active employment in connection with Civil Defence. The Leader of the House, as he now is, went on an expedition to Moscow and brought back most valuable results for the nation from that expedition. I do not quarrel with the way in which the Government was conducted and the way in which the House was treated at that time, but I do quarrel with the House continuing to be treated as if we were still in the face of this tremendous military disaster and still on the assumption that the Prime Minister must give the larger part of his attention to the immediate conduct of the war. In the Dunkirk period we were in great danger. We had a great leader, the nation was ready to fight, as he said, in the streets, in the fields, in the hills and on the beaches, and we became for the time just an Island Power ready to face all the legions of hell and defy them and, if we could, to overcome them, but if we could not to die in our attempt to do so.
But the situation now is quite changed. We have not only an Army and men, but we have tanks and planes—the Prime Minister has told us how many we have; we have also, what is much more than these things, great Allies in the Soviet Union, in the United States and in China. We are in an entirely different condition from that in which the Government began their life. Instead of an Island Power defying the powers of hell we have now become again the leader of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and the mighty Allies with which we are associated are helping us in the ways which we know. Because of this change we should change our methods. I venture to say that the main battlefield at the present should be regarded not as that of physical warfare, but as the political battlefield. On that battlefield warfare will be decided. To reinforce that may I say, what a tremendous pity it is that the political battlefield in regard to Burma was not more strongly fortified when Burma was still on our side. We had the opportunity of doing so then 270 instead of it being left as it was to be the' prey of the Japanese without, as we have just heard in the powerful speech of the right hon. Gentleman who was formerly Secretary of State for War, even the adequate physical defences which ought to have been provided.
We ought to consider the great immediate political tasks which are before us, because it is a statement of our relations to those tasks and a statement of our relationship to world political responsibility which will rally the world to us and will eventually pave the way for our victory. I was delighted to hear on the radio the other night the Foreign Secretary speaking of the future control of the war machines of the world. That is very germane to the present running of the war. As one goes about in this country—and I have been going about a great deal lately, making contacts with many people of all classes and kinds in and out of the Services, in Civil Defnce and in ordinary life—one finds how bewildered people feel at the lack of any clear and definite statement with regard to the directions in which we are moving and the main plans of the Government for after the war. No one in his senses wants all the details worked out. It would be impossible and improper to attempt to work them out, but we should at least know in what direction we are going and what are the main things to be achieved.
Let me come to a concrete matter with regard to the political field. I will take our Imperial home front, our political relationship with the Dominions, and particularly with Australia. We have here a High Commissioner, Mr. Stanley Bruce, a representative of the War Cabinet, Sir Earle Page, and the Attorney-General of Australia, Dr. Evatt, representing the Secretary for External Affairs. What do the Australians want from us? They want, of course, co-operation, fuller than anything we have been able to give them. They want to see in Australia British soldiers, and sailing round her coasts British ships. They want to see in their sky British planes, manned by British pilots. We should supply these ships, men, aeroplanes and pilots. It may be asked how we can do it. As was said yesterday by the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate, the United States are so much nearer to Australia than we are. That is true. How we could transport our men 271 to Australia would require careful consideration, but we could certainly spare the men. We could ask the United States to make up to this country for the men we sent to Australia. They could replace the planes, ships and other units which we sent to Australia by the equivalent from the United States. Great forces from the United States have, indeed, come here.
I happen to be one of those people fortunate enough to have visited Australia, and I know that country is not only 100 per cent. British, but 105 per cent. British. It is astonishingly British. I once had a conversation which hon. Members may think was absurd, but they will understand it when I explain it. I was walking in the streets of Brisbane and had equipped myself for what appeared to be a hot climate in a suit of white and a white topee. I was talking to the Prime Minister of that time and asked him why I did not see in the streets of Brisbane any Australians walking about in the same kind of clothes that I had on, which were usually worn by Europeans in India and other places where the climate is hot. He replied, "We do not wear those things. We wear serge suits from Yorkshire and bowlers"—which I dare say came from Lincoln and Bennetts, or some other good maker. He added, "We do that just to show we are British" That may be absurd, but it was a very appealing kind of absurdity and appealed to me strongly. That is the way the Australians feel about us. Every effort should be made because of our close kinship with these people to send them forces of English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish men to fight beside them. It would make a tremendous difference in our relations with Australia and in their feelings about the war. We also want much closer relations with Canada. The Opposition in Canada is a difficult Opposition, and we ought to have relations with it. We ought to have closer relations, too, with South Africa. The Opposition there is in some respects still more difficult. We ought still more firmly to cement our relations with New Zealand, although they are very close.
Then there is India on the political field. Are we to leave India where it is? Are we to leave the situation where it is? The Prime Minister's mind is always stimulated to intense activity 272 under the stress of a military emergency. Because of the military emergency with regard to Russia he was stimulated at once to the understanding of the necessity and the inevitability of our great alliance with that country, although he had formerly been one of those who were most strongly opposed to it. I hope that the Prime Minister, under the stress of the grave danger which threatens India, a danger which for parts of that country is as grave as that which has overrun Burma, will be stimulated to make another move towards India so that we may have her as our bastion of defence; and not only as our bastion of defence and of the defence of the peoples of India, for which we are responsible, but also as the gateway of understanding of the mind of the people of the East. We should proclaim the freedom of India, under the aegis of the British Commonwealth of Nations, against the slave world of Japan. Madagascar was a great enterprise, boldly conceived and boldly executed, but what now needs to be done is to secure that India itself is safeguarded, and that we do not have to call upon the defences of Madagascar to save our own Middle Eastern Front from attack by the Japanese.
What needs to be done—and I believe that most Members who have spoken in this Debate, at any rate in a critical way will agree—is for the Prime Minister to give up being Minister of Defence and promote himself to be Prime Minister, to take charge of the political affairs of this tremendous world Dominion and of our enormously significant world relationships at the present time. The other day the Prime Minister suddenly came in during one of our Debates, I think it was upon fuel rationing, and stood at that Box and told us about the conquest of Madagascar. Oh, a splendid thing, a great military gesture; but I should like to see him come to that Box and tell us about a great settlement in India; I should like him to come to that Box and tell us that our relations with the United States are being more and more firmly united than before, and that our relations with Australia are still better. If the Prime Minister gives up, as I hope he will, being Minister of Defence, he does not, of course, give up his authority and responsibility in connection with the conduct of the war. He is the Prime Minister, and as such would have the last word in the War Cabinet. But 273 it seems to me clear that the conduct of the war at the present time is no longer the leading of expeditions against impossible odds, as it was at the time of Dunkirk; it is a world scale series of military operations which ought to be left to the three Service advisers and not to the immediate superintendence of the Prime Minister himself.
That is because, also, the political part of the war is so very much more important. If the Prime Minister would turn to these greater political issues, to the strengthening of our political relationships with our own Dominions, with India, with our own Colonies—to which too little attention has been paid in that respect—with the United States—where there is a great deal to be done—with the U.S.S.R. and with China, that surely would be a great enough work for any man, however great he may be. The war field is a great field. The Prime Minister has done magnificent work in that field, but there is the bigger field of the conduct of this war and the planning of the policy which will set out the main lines on, which the peace is to be concluded, the main lines of what is to be done on the home front, what is to be done for the world of men submerged by despotism and slavery on the Continent of Europe, what is to be done for the millions of Asia, what is to be done for the millions in China, in India and in Japan and all the Japanese-dominated countries. We should have, too, a political message of freedom, for which we are fighting, for the black millions, the hundred millions of Africa; and for another world, too often neglected, the world of Islam, a world that stretches round the world and is a great civilisation of its own.
It is on that political battlefield that the Prime Minister should now show those great gifts which have been of such in-estimable service to the nation up to the present time, and by laying down the post of Defence Minister and assuming that of political Prime Minister, he will bring this war to a victorious conclusion and initiate a peace which will stabilise the future civilisation of the world.
§ Major Sir Ronald Ross (Londonderry)
It is very reassuring to hear the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Haden Guest) express the view that the war has eased down sufficiently for us to adopt more normal Parliamentary procedure. I wish I held the same view, and I should have thought that with the 274 attention which he has given to matters and with the knowledge which he has of affairs in the Dominions, particularly those in the Pacific, he would hardly have considered this to be the time when we can relax our efforts, but should keep keyed up to at least the same scale of effort which was displayed in the Battle of Britain.
I did not suggest that we should relax our efforts, I suggested merely a different method. I trust the Service Ministers, and I trust the General Staff, and the hon. and gallant Member apparently does not.
§ Sir R. Ross
The hon. Member has not allowed me to get very far to show what I do before he has informed me of what I do not do, but what he advocated was definitely a relaxation of the intense effort which we were undergoing at that time.
§ Sir R. Ross
I think that if the hon. Member reads his speech when it is in print, he will see that I have not made an unjustifiable criticism. There is one further point. He said that he would allude to all the Dominions. He did not allude to Eire, which is still a Dominion. My views are distinguishable from those of the Government of Eire, but if there is one thing which they do not like, it is being ignored. He never said anything about them, and that I consider to be an injustice to Ireland.
§ Sir R. Ross
I do not think I would be entitled to accept that apology on behalf of the Eire Government, but I am sure they will appreciate it. This Debate has ranged from the academic to the highly technical, and every lugubrious incident has been mentioned which could have been mentioned. I think the House has been rather too retrospective, because no war has ever been won by a series of inquests, and wishful strategy—however much we wish we could do this or could have done that—is of very little assistance to those on whom the real responsibility rests. Let us look forward as far as we can rather than backward. The test of a country is how it stands up to adversity. Are we showing in this House that, to use the American phrase which applies best, "we can take it"? I think 275 the country as a whole can take it. We have had reverses, serious reverses, but when I go into the wardroom of one of the small craft, a corvette or a sloop, that has come back from her winter convoy work in the North Atlantic, or am in a mess of the R.A.F. Coastal Command, among young men who have come back from their long patrols of great hazards and great hardships, I am in places far more cheerful and optimistic than ever this House of Commons is. The men who are bearing the heat and burden of the real struggle can take it, but when I listen to the gloomy prognostications, the veiled attacks, which we hear in this House I am sometimes a little doubtful whether some of my colleagues are standing the strain quite so well.
We have learned a lot from Russia. We all give Russia the due praise which she has deserved for her magnificent struggle. Let us learn one more lesson from Russia. Her losses have been immensely greater than any we have had—whole provinces, great cities, with frightful hardships for the citizens of the Union of Soviet Republics. As to their leader, probably Mr. Stalin has far more work and individual responsibility than our Prime Minister, yet neither in this country—very properly so—nor, so far as I know, in Russia, have there been these attacks, these questionings and this general attitude that a change must be made for its own sake.
Let us just look back into the history of this country. Let us go back for a moment to the Peninsular War.
§ Sir R. Ross
Yes, but we ought to learn from the past, and I shall try to do my best to enable hon. Gentlemen opposite to do so. Our constant demands for information are bound to be of some assistance to the enemy. Consider what Russia does; she never gives information about her Armies to within 100 miles of where the fighting really is. During the Peninsular War, Napoleon never really knew where his armies were until he read the English newspapers. The Spanish guerillas saw to it that he got no direct indication from them. As to the controversy about the second front, I would remind hon. Gentlemen that, after the Battle of Talavera, Wellington's army in 276 the Peninsular did not fire a shot for many months, although Spain was making a gallant defence, rather like Russia at the present time—we do not need to push the analogy too close. She was having a worse time than Russia, and making constant demands for assistance. While the Parliamentary Opposition of the day here were criticising the Government, the military opinion of Wellington, who was responsible, kept the British Army quiescent, not firing a shot, for a very long period. History has decided, and every military critic will now agree, that that was the right policy at that time. Therefore, when we feel the desirability of a second front, let us remember that we must depend on the opinion of the technical chiefs about what the right hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) said would be one of the most hazardous operations ever undertaken by any country.
Now I wish to allude to something which has not been alluded to by anybody, so far as I know, during this Debate. I want to look to the future rather than to the past. It is perhaps a coincidence that many people who are most vocal about the disasters of Singapore took the least degree of interest in the defences of Singapore in the years before the war. It is far better to see where we may have a weakness than to demand inquiries into weaknesses which have been exposed. The strategical importance of Ireland to the war situation, and to this country in particular, cannot be over-estimated, but nobody ever alludes to it or considers it. Nevertheless, from Elizabethan times it has been an axiom, that no hostile Power could be allowed to be in control of Ireland, or otherwise the position of Great Britain would be so compromised as to make it extremely difficult to carry on any war. I come from Northern Ireland. I am not going to say anything in the nature of an attack on the Government of Eire. We differ in many respects, but one point we have in common is that we are both equally eager and anxious to prevent Ireland becoming a battlefield.
It is clear what enormous advantages would accrue to the enemy if they could get control of Ireland. That is so obvious that it does not need elaboration, but how has Ireland been protected up to now? What are the forces in Eire? They consist of an army. There is no navy and 277 practically no air force. I am not attempting to indulge in a sneer at the army of the Dominion of Eire. There is admirable material in it, and the regular army is most efficient; but I do not think anyone would say it is capable of facing a modem army with a high proportion of armoured divisions. Particularly would it be incapable of doing so without an air force of its own. Further to that, there is no navy. Ireland has been protected because there is a part of it to which British, and now United States, forces can go. The temptation to invade Ireland would probably have been irresistible if strong forces which can protect the country had not been based actually in Ireland.
We are not likely to get any thanks from Mr. de Valera and his colleagues. That Dominion has been protected by the determination of the people of Northern Ireland not to be parted from their kinsmen in Great Britain. If we had elected to go in with the South, I do not think anyone would have made the slightest objection. If we had done so, we should now see the whole of Ireland neutral and liable to immediate attack, with this country starting, as we did in Norway, without the advantage of having forces already on the spot for the defence of the country.
That is the position. The present situation is fantastic. One of our weaknesses is in our Intelligence Service, and also in what I might call our counterintelligence Service, which prevents the enemy obtaining Intelligence of our military dispositions. For that purpose a ring has been laid round Great Britain and is very finely drawn. The greatest attention is paid to anything going in or out, but, for some fantastic reason, Northern Ireland has been left out. We are outside. If I write a letter to any hon. Member of this House or he writes one to me, the letter is carefully read by a censor, and bits which this estimable young lady thinks are unsuitable for us to read are cut out with a pair of scissors, but I can write to a member of the Dail in Dublin or to any member of the I.R.A. if I have acquaintance with any. I think I can write also to a friend of the German consul in Dublin. Such correspondence is not subject to censorship. You have a neutral country on one side and part of the United Kingdom on the 278 other. There is censorship between this country and that part of the United Kingdom, while there is free interchange of letters between us and the neutral part of the country, which has in its midst accredited representatives of all the hostile Powers.
Have we ever heard of a situation more ridiculous? The inconvenience and botheration which the citizens of Northern Ireland suffer individually from having their letters read and from the fact that the post takes from five to eight days to come from England to places there, is a small consideration compared with the other question of having a proper border and boundary between that part of the United Kingdom which lies in Ireland and the neutral State of Eire. Of course, it is a serious undertaking to have an effective boundary 200 miles long, but I cannot believe that it is a matter of such difficulty that the British Empire is not capable of carrying it out. At the present time there is a brisk trade in smuggling subsidised food. We all know that the Government try to keep the price of food down in this country, and there is a brisk trade in smuggling it into Eire. In fact, it is run on such scientific hues that I believe that the enterprising persons in Eire who are principally interested can take out insurance policies against the risk of getting caught. It is on a sound actuarial basis. That boundary should be a proper boundary.
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs is no longer in his place. It is a most extraordinary thing that the many distinguished men who have gone to the Dominions Office have at once developed the most peculiar views on subjects connected with Ireland, the chief one being an intense desire not to do the slightest thing which could not be considered as appeasement of the Government of Eire, or the Irish Free State as it was before. In all the time I have been in the House the Government have invariably been wrong, from the time when they decided that the Statute of Westminster was not going to wreck the Treaty and it did wreck the Treaty, down to the time when we gave away the Irish ports for nothing at all, which has not only been a disaster to us, costing this country I do not know how many ships or how many thousands of lives, but has also been a disaster to 279 Eire, because they too have suffered from the blockade and have no ships to use the ports. On every one of these questions the friends of this country from Ireland have invariably given their opinion, which has nearly always been justified as against the opinion of the Government. Yet we have always been told, so to speak, that "Mother knows best." She does not. We know more about these questions, I am convinced, than anyone who advised the surrender of the Irish ports, or who has taken the unfortunate line in Irish politics which has been taken during the last 15 years or more.
At the present time this vital area for defensive purposes, vital for the Battle of the Atlantic, lies right outside the whole organisation for preventing intelligence reaching the enemy. And it has recently become very much more serious for the reason that we now have strong United States Forces in Northern Ireland. It is not fair to them that they should not be within the organisation, in order to prevent intelligence as to their movements and their strength going calmly over the border to the accredited agents of the enemy Powers. It will not do, and I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman who is to reply for the Government to-day will bear in mind what I have tried to put to him. It is better to look forward, it is better to look ahead, than to become obsessed with weaknesses in the past. I would most earnestly suggest that the present system must be altered and that a proper and effective boundary, properly patrolled and with complete control of all passage from the neutral country of Eire into the United Kingdom, should be set up. Passengers for Eire should not be allowed to proceed there through Northern Ireland, and the censorship, instead of the present ridiculous system under which photographs of wedding groups and parish magazines cannot be sent from one part of the United Kingdom to another, should be transformed into a censorship between the United Kingdom and the neutral country which lies on our doorstep. These are matters of great importance, and I trust that they will be attended to before it is too late.
§ Mr. Sorensen (Leyton, West)
Save at the beginning of the war, I have not had the temerity to take part in discussions on the war itself, and I am afraid that I 280 almost owe an apology to the House for doing so now. I am fully conscious that my own mental dialect will hardly be understood or appreciated by many hon. Members here. The House will at the same time appreciate my own desire to reaffirm my own faith and conviction regarding war, and will understand that whatever I may say, whether it is acceptable or not, is not designed to hamper, frustrate or injure my country but is rather designed to assist it.
I have listened with very great attention to the various analyses made of the war by hon. Members of this House, to the discussions of strategy, the criticism of Ministers, and the various predictions and calculations regarding the future. I think we have discerned one or two facts arising from that general discussion. Firstly, I think there is a growing realisation that our own country, with approximately 48,000,000 people, is, in spite of its very great gallantry, limited in its military power. Of course, I do not know precisely how many there are available for the Fighting Forces, but I do know this: by glancing at a few statistics and taking into consideration the number of men who must be in the munition works and shipyards, the Civil Defence services, the mines and on the land, together with those who have been killed or taken prisoner, one can see that the remainder, who have to be put into the Mercantile Marine, the Royal Navy, the Army and the Air Force and at the same time be flung all round the world, cannot be expected to perform miracles beyond their capacity.
Therefore, from a military standpoint, it is obviously useful and good that at the present time we should have the assistance and the Alliance of the United States of America on the one hand and the Soviet Union on the other. It is, of course, essential from that strictly military standpoint that the utmost service should be rendered to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, but I think it is equally well to appreciate that Russia did not enter into the war specifically with a desire to help this country. She entered the war because she was attacked. It is fortunate for us that there is a convergence of need at the present time, but I mention these facts because it is as well to understand that part of the British Empire has gone—maybe temporarily—and the loss of Malaya, the Straits, Burma and Hong Kong has done much to re- 281 move our rather complacent assumption in the past that the British Empire was impregnable. We must remember that if and when Russia succeeds in driving back the German hosts, it is most unlikely that Russia will then come to the aid of the British Empire and help restore those broken bits to their former position. That drives us therefore to consider the other fact, that we must take a long view of the future. We must anticipate a world after this war—it is rather platitudinous to say it—vastly different from the world before the war. There will not only be a realignment of forces but a new structure of society for us to support, to criticise or to amend.
That being so, perhaps the few remarks I have to make may have some bearing, if not on the actual operation of the war, at least on its purposes, for we may very easily lose sight of the asserted purposes of the war when pursuing its technique. We need to avoid that. I confess the whole terrible business of war, with its waste, misery and hate, fills me with horror, sorrow, and deep compassion. I am not alone in that. Every Member of this House may feel very much the same. That is not to say that I am insensitive to the splendid gallantry, heroism and sacrifice of so many from our country and other lands too. Nevertheless, I am more convinced than ever I was, with due appreciation of what I am saying now, that human evil, however terrible and systematised it may be, can never be overcome by war. Although there is, I admit, a powerful and impressive case for this war, yet I believe as certainly as ever that the essential truth in that particular faith which I hold, and which I know others hold too, lies in consistent fidelity to the knowledge that moral and spiritual forces in the end are the only means of destroying the terrible evils that confront us to-day. Even so, I know there are many who would criticise that statement or at least not accept its implications, but who nevertheless would endorse other aspects of the faith I hold.
I believe, for instance, that it is gratifying for us all to know that we are one of the few areas of the world where we still preserve free speech and a large measure of democracy. We are justifiably proud of that fact. I believe it should be gratifying also to us to know that we have offered asylum to so many refugees from Nazi oppression. I believe we should be 282 glad of the fact that we have sustained in a large measure those principles of justice and humanity which we alleged, and which I believe we sincerely alleged, were the purposes of this war. Above all, I believe we should be grateful that on the whole we have avoided the complete tyranny of hate. Therefore, at least, we are all united in this House, whatever our viewpoints may be, even though we might disagree on the technique and method of overcoming Nazi, Fascist and Nipponese aggression, in desiring to overcome by every effective means in our power, according to our judgment and capacity, those evils and other evils confronting us.
Because of this may I emphasise certain aspects of the situation which I believe would receive the endorsement of others in this House? It is an axiom, I believe, that one way by which the enemy shall be overcome is not merely by direct attack, but by undermining his strength. To overcome evil we must also undermine it. How is this to be done? There are many ways which have been explained in this House already. The great majority in this House believe that the only way to overcome the enemy is to build up overwhelming military strength, but there are others, political, moral, social and physical, which I endorse. That is why these principles of justice and democracy and the fact of our being, an asylum for refugees are to us not a loss but a great gain. They put us in a much more powerful position in the world than if we had done the other thing, contracted our spirit and betrayed our historic principles.
May I urge that more attention should be paid to the question of propaganda, and may I submit that we must appeal to the best in the peoples of every land and not give way to the assumption or contention that all the peoples of the enemy countries are to be identified with their vicious or neurotic rulers? The mass of people in all lands are duped or doped. In many cases they have passed through appalling privation, humiliation and despair and have become susceptible material for exploitation by unscrupulous demagogues. They are more victims to be pitied than blamed. If there be any disagreement on that, I would mention that the common people of Finland, now our enemies, at one time were being eulogised as our friends. The people in Russia narrowly escaped being our 283 enemies. Had it not been for the resistance of Sweden and Norway to the passage of troops and munitions, we might very well have been attacking the Russian people, and engaged in a campaign to vilify the Russian people and contend that all the alleged evils of which we heard so much years ago were to be put to their responsibility. Looking back, we see how swiftly piles of humanity are shifted from place to place like piles of muck. The Italians, who were our "Blood brothers" in the last war, are "wops" in this. The Japanese were "our gallant Allies" in the last war, but are "yellow devils" in this. So we chop and change, and in these circumstances can we say that the great mass of people are to be identified with responsibility in the same way as their present rulers?
I submit most earnestly therefore that we must discriminate and continue to do so between those rulers who have been flung up by tragic circumstances into despotic authority and the mass of people in all lands who, if only they could form a common unity, could once and for all get rid of those who tyrannise and exploit them, and instead build a fairer and better world. We have to recognise as part of our propaganda the ordinary common humanity of the people in all lands. I believe that we must persist in trying to convince the peoples of Germany, Italy and Japan as far as we can that the world we desire to rebuild is their world as well as ours, that it will be better for them as well as for us. That is why I am glad Mr. Stalin some time ago, in his famous Order of the Day, made it quite clear that he did not subscribe to that propaganda in this and other countries which desired to identify ail the people of Germany with their present rulers. Further, I would submit that it is folly to assume that by threatening the complete massacre of 80,000,000 Germans, 40,000,000 Italians and 80,000,000 Japanese we are thereby strengthening our own cause. On the contrary, I submit that in that way we intensify and strengthen the real enemy, whom we should desire to weaken and undermine. This is not soft sentimentality. I believe it is the logic both of the Christian and the Socialist faiths at their best, and I believe that it is sound psychology and statesmanship. The alternative, looking through history, is merely the enchain- 284 ing of humanity through all the ages from the primitive jungle to the one we are in to-day.
We can, and should, as far as possible avoid being pulled into the emotional vortex of blind hatred. I say that having shared, as far as I could, the bitter blows that have fallen on my own constituents and upon the homes where they have lost their loved ones, either in conflict or in the tragic air bombardment of 1940–41. I understand the instinctive reaction which makes us thirst for revenge, but I believe that it is a fatal intoxication, to give way to which would lead us only to further disaster. Would the House permit me, by way of contrast, to read a letter sent to "The Times" by Brigadier-General Thomas, who felt appalled at one method adopted in certain quarters for the conditioning of soldiers in their training. In this, I understand, blood is scattered over them, and all sorts of hate cries are shouted in their ears? This is what the General, who may be known to many Members here, says:All this hating and spraying with blood is a form of neurosis and definitely not the way to win a fight. Inculcate faith in the Tightness of our cause, confidence in our leaders, and skill at arms, and the men will fight all right.I believe that that is a far finer and more effective exhortation to the people of this country than all the hate staff that is being poured out, consciously or unconsciously, in many quarters to-day. I ask, too, that we should not over-romanticise the appalling human tragedy which is upon us to-day. Desecration is not removed by mere disinfection. The horrors of to-day whether they occur in York or in Cologne, in Bath or in Lubeck, are horrors still. I express my gratitude here that only yesterday the Archbishop of Canterbury exhorted us yet again to distinguish between devotion to a cause and the morbid gloating over destruction which has occurred in certain quarters. I am sure that it is not impossible to expect the people of this country, although I recognise they are determined to carry this war through, to avoid that blind hatred. I ask the House to appreciate that one way in which we may be able to emerge from this war not worse but better, is by not only avoiding hate, by preserving sanity, charity and reason, by appreciating that the common people of all lands still belong to 285 the same human family, but also by ourselves, as far as possible, setting an impressive example to the world of what we mean by these high principles for which men are so valiantly laying down their lives. If we can secure in India and in our Colonies a greater advance of human freedom and democracy and the emergence of a resolute will for a new social and international order, and show the world that we can keep ourselves clean from morbid hate to the end, I believe that in that way we shall be able not only to justify the sacrifice of men and women but to ensure that out of the horrors of to-day a finer and a nobler civilisation will arise.
We are all glad that gas warfare has not been used up to now. We should deplore its use as we should deplore the use of bacteria. If we restrict certain forms of warfare, is it not possible to restrict other forms as well? If we can find, either on strategic or on human grounds, some means of limiting the effects of bombing, target bombing as we are told it is now, should we not do so? I put forward these thoughts not to injure my country or my faith, but to serve my country and my common humanity in this time of urgent need, so that, out of our distresses and tensions and the travail of the human family, we may yet be able to secure that new vision and redemptive spirit which will ensure for our own land and the world as a whole a real, enduring, just and reconciling peace.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
I am certain that the entire House has listened with sympathy to the speech of the hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen). But it must not be thought that we can accept his thesis entirely. This discussion as to the temperature at which a man may kill his enemy, whether in heat or in cold blood, seems only to bemuse a situation which is already difficult enough. It seems to me that the German people and the Japanese people have acquiesced in a vile system of government and of culture, and that if those countries obtained the victory those people for whom the hon. Member has pleaded would enter into the fruits of victory and would forget any evil. We must have justice with strength, and fight this war at a white heat until the enemy is defeated. The Debate to-day has followed a different line from that which it 286 followed yesterday. Yesterday, there was cut-and-thrust which in normal times would have given great delight to he House. To-day, there is more sober talk. I am certain that the House was glad yesterday to welcome back to our councils the right hon. and gallant Member for Westmorland (Colonel Stanley). There was a deftness of phrasing and a touch of irony about his speech which shows that a Stanley need not give way even to a Cecil. By contrast, the speech of the Deputy Prime Minister, to put the matter at its kindliest, was a disappointment. To be, at this time in history, Deputy Prime Minister of this country and Secretary of State for the Dominions is to hold a gigantic position. Surely, when the man who holds such a position speaks to this House, he should have the courage to speak more as a giant than the right hon. Gentleman did yesterday.
If we agree that the Debate reached a high intellectual level yesterday, as I think it did, I wonder whether that is not some measure of its lack of conviction and sincerity. I do not doubt the sincerity of any of the Members who spoke. But we are at war. Hideous, dreadful, terrible things are happening. Death is stalking across the face of the world, unchecked. I do not think that, in its mood, yesterday's Debate was worthy of this great House. I speak as one who comes from the outer Empire, and who feels very deeply the dignity of sitting in this House, and it is with some diffidence that I make that comment. While we were discussing small points, indulging in incessant attack on the Prime Minister, the fate of civilisation was being decided—the fate not only of ourselves, but of unborn children, of generations who will have to accept their heritage of happiness or misery as we leave it. That is a fact which should make every one of us humble with a sense of his own responsibility at this hour. Did the Debate yesterday reflect the gravity of the situation? We had a discussion as to whether there should be an over-riding Chairman for the Chiefs of Staff Committee. The case was put most ably by the hon. Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg). An hon. Member opposite said, "Why do you not say what you mean: that you think the Prime Minister should go?" That suggestion was hotly denied by the hon. Member for Altrincham, but later the 287 Debate developed into a series of thrusts against the position of the Prime Minister.
To-day that atmosphere has slightly evaporated but the fact remains that the Debate as far as it was continued by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) to-day was directed personally against the Prime Minister. There were of course the usual tributes to my right hon. Friend. He is we are told a great leader, but the trouble is that he leads and, therefore, it seems he should be shackled; he is a great leader but he is no judge of men; he is a great leader but the country has lost faith in him. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who said this"?] If the hon. Member will look at the OFFICIAL REPORT he will find all this was said yesterday. One hon. Gentleman told about the Prime Minister's most recent broadcast, and how in a public-house, the proprietor shut off the broadcast because there was so much conversation and so many jokes that nobody wanted to listen to the Prime Minister. That was what was said yesterday, and to put it mildly that is not a true picture. If words mean anything, how can a man be a great leader if he is no judge of men, or if he has lost the confidence and the interest of the country? It would be more honest, and probably more useful, if the critics went straight up against the Prime Minister and stopped paying so many compliments in the process. A little less anaesthetic and a little more honesty about the actual purposes of the Government would be more worthy of the Members of this great House of Commons.
The Prime Minister has held office for two years. That is a long time in a war. Mr. Asquith fell within that time, and Mr. Lloyd George nearly fell in the Spring of 1918 before he had completed his two years. That is not unnatural. The effect of war on the human temperament not only affects us in this House. It affects all normal life. We see in the urgency and distemper of war the severings of partnerships, of concerns, even of man and wife. All these things are going on, and as the war drags on and takes its toll of our nervous resources, impatience may become a dangerous factor and come to be regarded too much as a special virtue. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Westmorland said yesterday that public clamour is a dangerous 288 counsel, and, in my opinion, impatience sometimes is a spur which can be over used. With the utmost deference to this House it is a thousand pities that we should have given the impression yesterday that there is a growing feeling between the Prime Minister and Parliament and that the country is necessarily with Parliament. Despite the long list of disasters and humiliations—I use the word "humiliations" with an exact knowledge of what it means, and none of these things can be dissociated from the name of the Prime Minister, and he himself would not wish it otherwise—I still believe that the reputation of the Prime Minister stands almost as high in the world to-day as it did in the spring of 1940 when he spoke for the nation, for the Empire and for civilisation itself.
I have listened as all the House has listened to the familiar charges of past mistakes, quoted so faithfully and assiduously by the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), among others, the useless defence of Hong Kong, the waste of reinforcements at Singapore, Greece, Crete and so on. What would have been the effect upon the Dutch, the Chinese and the Americans if, at the first shot by Japan, we had abandoned Hong Kong without a gun-going off? What a prelude to the partnership of the United Nations? What would this House have said if the Government had sent word to the Forces at Singapore, "Fight on to the last, but we shall not reinforce you "? We might have had some ugly scenes in this House if that had happened. What would have happened if we had failed to send assistance to the Greeks? Perhaps almost the most important thing in the course of this war may turn out to have been the defeat of the Italians by the Greeks. That was the turning point in the whole strategy of the war. Could we have said to these descendants of a great race, when they took on Germany as well, "We shall not be by your side"?
It has been said before that great struggles are not between right and wrong but between the right and the partially right. That is why it is very unfair, looking back upon this list of disasters and humiliations, to assume that decisions were taken without sufficient thought and care. No one, not even his most loyal supporter, would say that the Prime Minister has not made mistakes. They are clear to the eves of us all, but he has 289 never wavered in his broad conception of aid to Russia and the development of the alliance of the English-speaking peoples. He never allowed events in the forefront to rob him of the vast horizon of his own conception. We are reaping to-day the harvest of the Prime Minister's faith, and that harvest spells victory. The introduction of America into this war not only proclaims the certainty of victory but it does outline the future of the world and a better existence than we have had before.
It is difficult for any Member of this House to make a speech such as I am doing without incurring some charge of sycophancy. I ask my hon. Friends to absolve me from this charge. I was a loyal supporter of Mr. Chamberlain. I believe that he was right about Munich, and he drank the cup of humiliation to the dregs. Though that view may be wrong—I know it is not held by many Members of this House—I do not propose to change my stance now. I believed in Chamberlain then and I believe in Chamberlain now, but because one is loyal to one's dead friend it does not alter or lessen one's gratitude to the living man who succeeded him in that onerous task. Since I am trying to speak with great frankness to-day I would say that I wonder whether we do well always to speak about the Ministers of the Front Bench as if they are mere hangers-on or cast-offs. I wonder if that is the best way to get the finest work out of them. No hon. Member of this House is worthy of his seat unless he feels that he is worthy of being a Minister and would make a better one than those he sees but, after all, the Prime Minister did choose them and we have to look at them and say, "Are they doing as bad a job as yesterday's speeches would indicate?" Let us consider them at random. Has Lord Woolton been a failure? Has Lord Leathers been a failure at the Ministry of War Transport? We praise the bombers which are carving out the pattern of victory over Germany and the pilots who fly them. Are the Ministers responsible for making these bombers, and for the direction of the Air Force, failures? It has been said that on the Front Bench there are none but weak men, yet the House has charged the Home Secretary with being too strong. Is the Foreign Secretary a shadow among a Cabinet of shades?
§ Mr. Baxter
I realise that when one engages in these personalities it is always a little dangerous so perhaps I had better retire from this prize-giving, even if I leave out someone. Certainly no Government is as good as it should be. All Governments are born to die and this Government will die, but I believe that before it dies it will be led to victory by the Prime Minister. I would make an appeal to my right hon. Friend. It is true that the enemy is only a few miles away from us across the Channel but the enemy is also at the very gates of Australia. Far away in the Pacific, Australia is facing a great ordeal and her hour of crisis, and I would like to think that if and when the Japanese set foot on Australian soil we in this country will feel it as deeply and urgently as if they had set foot on our own beaches here. In the last war Australians and New Zealanders sent out their manhood to what they were willing to accept as the frontier—the Suez Canal. At that time a friendly Japanese fleet protected their security at home. This time, when Japan is a potential and almost certain menace, they again man the frontier at the Canal.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
They were in the front line last time. They took part in fights in Libya, against the Turks, and in France as well.
§ Mr. Baxter
Yes, they played a great part. The hour has come for Australia. She has a small population guarding a vast territory and neither this House nor the country can escape responsibility for that smallness of her population. If we of our generation had shown half the genius in developing our Empire that our fathers did in founding it, Australia today would not be a wide open target for the Japanese but an impregnable fortress in the Pacific. In addition to everything else he has done, I wish the Prime Minister would make himself more of an Empire figure. I have been a Member of this House for about seven years, and I have watched it closely from the neighbourhood of Fleet Street for many years. Not in my time have I seen one great Empire figure emerge from this House. Many men feel deeply about it. Indeed, we had a fine speech to-day from the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Haden Guest), but there are others who 291 lose no opportunity of detracting in the House from the prestige and dignity of the Empire. We have heard about India ad nauseam, yet the story of administration in India is almost without parallel in the governments of the world. We brought to India justice and order in a sub-continent that had no chance of getting it without us. I think those of us who were born in the outer Empire sometimes feel more deeply about the Commonwealth of Nations than others do here in this House and in the country. But we need a leader and it seems to me that the Prime Minister, who has done so much, must spread out the vision of his mind more to embrace all races under the British flag.
An Austrian Jew, a refugee, one of the leaves blown by the cruel winds of Europe, said to me the other day, "The truth about the British is that they are a race of knights and judges." I think it is a wonderful phrase. Here we are to-day, almost the last of the great Parliaments, in session. No little distance away the Law Courts are dispensing justice in a world which has almost forgotten the word and our knights of the air are riding against the enemy every hour of the day and night. It is a great thing. We took these qualities across the Seven Seas and built an Empire which, if it falls, will bring civilisation down with it. Proud as I am to be a Member of this House I look back on all the mistakes of the last seven years, with deep shame that we have not realised our heritage and our responsibilities to our kinsmen overseas. They have been cruelly neglected and now the evil harvest is come. One by one we are losing these places and there is no saying when that process will end. But Australia holds the tide, and if Australia goes, Canada will follow. I do not say Canada will fall, but it will be attacked. Should we not send out to Australia now British airmen and British regiments? Should we not say to Australians and New Zealanders, who have fought within all our battles, "We have come back to take our place with you"? No matter how few there are, it can be done, and should be done.
In conclusion, I wish that we in this country appreciated as much what the Dominions are doing as the Dominions appreciate what we have done. A few 292 months ago I had the good fortune to go across Canada, and if hon. Members could have been with me and talked in the prairie cities to women who have given their only sons, and who spoke with such tenderness, such pride and such loyalty of this country, they would feel that we cannot show less in return. I wish the Prime Minister, who has done so much to bring the English-speaking peoples together, who has kept his faith so high, would give more thought and more voice to the people of our own kith and kin in the Empire, and do his part in helping to make us mightier yet, because this British race of knights and judges—
§ Mr. Baxter
—And miners—has been called upon to play a terrific part in shaping the destiny of civilisation.
§ Mr. William Brown (Rugby)
It is some eleven years since I last had the privilege of addressing this House, and in the meantime I fear that my knowledge of its practices and procedures has fallen very much into disuse. Therefore, although this is not in the strict sense of the word a maiden speech, because I am by definition no longer a Parliamentary virgin, I trust that at least some of the indulgence that is normally shown to a Member making his first speech in the House may be extended to me. For the last two Sittings, we have been having one of our periodical inquests on the conduct of the war. The Debate has been marked by two main features. The first feature is that the Debate has been dominated from beginning to end by a Member who is not present, the Prime Minister. The second feature is that, although we are supposed to be looking at the whole range of the war effort, in fact, the Debate has centred, if not exclusively, very largely, on one narrow, even though important, phase of the war effort, namely, the higher military direction of the war. I want to begin what I have to say to-day with a few words about both those matters.
In the first place, I want to define my position in regard to the Prime Minister. It has been suggested that the Prime Minister has been unfairly attacked in this Debate and defended with sycophancy. I hope that from me he will get neither unfair attack nor sycophancy. Like everybody else in Britain, I cannot 293 be insensible of the unique contribution that the Prime Minister has made to the war effort, and if he goes out of office to-morrow, these four things shall be remembered to his eternal credit as long as the history of this race lasts. First, there shall be remembered the long years in the wilderness, when he warned us again and again of what was coming to us and was greeted with incredulity from almost all sides of the House. Secondly, this shall be remembered of him, that after Dunkirk he rallied the British as probably no other man in England could have done. This, thirdly, shall be remembered, that his handling of the Russian entry into the war, in a single speech, constituted a great act of statesmanship, and drove back to their holes before they emerged every mean spirit in England who might have cried, "Hold, enough!" Finally, he shall be remembered as being perhaps the only statesman in Britain whom the American people trusted, and who alone could have guided this country along the path of understanding, or towards the path of understanding, with America, and although his work was consummated by the work of others, that does not rob it of its tremendous significance. I am not one of those who have come to admire the Prime Minister since he became Prime Minister. If such temerity may be permitted in "the new boy," I think there has hardly been anything more nauseating in our public life than the way in which men who disregarded the Prime Minister and cried him down, have since sheltered under the magic of his name. I am at least free of that charge.
But having paid a tribute to the Prime Minister, let me utter two criticisms, because I have sworn that from me he shall have honest support or direct attack, as I think the case calls for. He has made two grave mistakes in his capacity as Prime Minister, the consequences of which are not yet at an end. The first was his failure to do what he ought to have done when he became Prime Minister. I doubt whether at any me in English history any one man so completely spoke for England as the Prime Minister did when he became Prime Minister. His moral authority was so great that he could have come to this House with a Government chosen regardless of party, chosen solely on the basis of character and ability, either from inside or outside the 294 House, and the House would have accepted that Government, and accepted it loyally. But what did he do? He committed what was, for a man of his understanding and his historical knowledge, the unforgivable sin of accepting the premises of the pseudo democratic Parliamentary compromise and composed his Government not on the basis of national need, but on the basis of the claims of the party caucuses in the House. That was a sin against the light.
His second grave offence was that he stepped down from his great position of leader of the British nation to become the leader of a decadent and declining faction in the House, the remnants of the Tory party, and in that position he has to undergo almost weekly—glory be to God, the death-rate here is high—the ignominy of being compelled to send a letter to the caucus candidate, whether he be good, bad, indifferent, or even plainly impossible. That is a humiliating position for the Prime Minister of Britain to occupy.
As regards the military direction I propose to say only a few words, because I do not feel I am competent to discuss this matter, as I have not been present during earlier Debates and cannot judge where the truth lies. In my judgment the case made out during this Debate for some alteration in the higher military direction of the war is a case which demands a serious answer from the Front Bench. It has not been a light case, but a serious and weighty case, and I hope it will receive a serious and weighty reply.
I turn now to what I chiefly wish to say in this Debate. Totalitarian war is not merely a war of armies and nations; it is a war of all the forces—military, social, economic and psychological—of the peoples who are engaged in it, and any survey of the conduct of the war which confines itself to the single point of the military direction is, on any count, an inadequate survey. I will be blunt. I do not believe we can win this war with our present "set-up." The House must forgive me for that Americanism. It is a phrase I picked up in America, the connotation of which is tout ensemble. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where did you pick up that one? "] I picked it up in France.
§ Mr. Brown
I certainly did not pick up my right hon. Friend. I come to that conclusion because it seems to me that there are six conditions which must be satisfied if we are to emerge successfully from this war. They are, first, a good cause; second, a truly national Government of the best material available to us; third, an effective military direction of the war; fourth, a vigorous and truly free Parliament; fifth, a united people; and sixth, a people with a dynamic hope in them for the future. Of all those conditions only the first is adequately satisfied. There is no doubt in any mind as to the goodness of our cause. In the course of the by-elections which I have attended recently—they were very gratifying to me, and less gratifying perhaps in other quarters of the House—this at least was evident, that so far from there having been any weakening in the will of the British people, the only doubt in their minds was how to make their will to victory more effective. That is true of every Division I have visited, and on that score the Government may be utterly at ease. I have never seen the English people so united.
Are the other conditions satisfied? Have we a national Government of the best possible personnel? I take the view that we have not. This Government was not chosen by the Prime Minister as a free agent. It was chosen by the Prime Minister on premises which I reject—that so many seats had to go to Members on one side of the House and so many to Members on the other side. Even within that postulate, the Prime Minister was not free to choose those whom he wanted. Certain Members sit in the Cabinet to-day for no other reason than that they occupied high positions within their party framework. Some occupied those positions within that party framework, not by virtue of their own qualities, but because they had been compromised candidates chosen to avoid a split in the party when vacancies for leadership occurred. If the House is appalled, as it was yesterday, by the un-scholarly schoolmastership of the Minister who opened the Debate, let Members go back eight years in Labour party history, and they will find the reason why he sits on that Bench at the present time. I say that this is not the best Government which Britain could find and is not the best which the House of Commons could have afforded. For that the Prime Minister 296 must take a heavy share of responsibility. He, at least, should have known what party tyranny was. They tried to destroy him—some would destroy him to-day if they could—Just as they tried to destroy my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House, and just as they tried to destroy me—only to let me attain a greater and more glorious resurrection [Interruption]. I have been very gentle to-day. On the next condition, the effective military direction of the war, I have already said I will not comment, beyond saying that I think the case made during this Debate requires an answer.
As regards the effective governmental machine in the shape of the Civil Service and the various controls, I speak with something approaching authority. I say that the public machinery in Britain, the administrative machinery, is gravely lacking in all sorts of directions. I put a Question the other day to the Prime Minister, asking whether he would separate the financial functions of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury from those of responsibility for the public service. I did so because I believe that to be an essential preliminary to the reorganisation of the public service in Britain—a reorganisation eliminating the caste system of recruitment, which has been its curse during the 30 years with which I have been connected with it.
As to a vigorous and free Parliament, my comment is that this Parliament is not free. There are dozens of Members in this House who were with me in 1929–31, and I hope I am not immodest in saying that quite a lot of them liked me. When they were approached, however, to come and help me at the by-election, with one accord they began to make excuse, because they were afraid that to support anyone meant the withdrawal of the Party whip. It is ominous and significant that the only two Members who did come down have subsequently found themselves in trouble. One has had the Whip withdrawn, and the other is now in a difficult position, from which I hope he will emerge triumphantly, before the Committee of Privileges. This is not a free House, and the reason for it is that in our political system to-day—the basic explanation of it is the enormous growth in the size of constituencies and therefore the enormous growth in the power of the machine—it is difficult for a man to survive on his own. It is difficult for him to survive 297 except as the agent of a machine, and the machine exacts its price in punishment and reward. You cannot become an official Labour candidate in Britain today, without signing a written statement that you will never vote against the decision of the Parliamentary party. [Interruption.] The Leader of the House can look after himself. The plain truth is that he found that situation intolerable, and got out as I did. [An HON. MEMBER: "He was thrown out."] I do not know which conferred the greater distinction on the other.
The power of punishment and the power of bribery vested in the Whips' Office, because of their control of patronage, are inimical to the survival of any truly representative democracy in Britain. The rebellion that is developing in the constituencies—I hope Chichester has shown that Rugby was not just a flash in the pan; if Chichester has not shown you that, Salisbury will—is not a rebellion against party politics. The division of mankind into Radical and Conservative is a natural division. There are some who are, temperamentally, so much aware of the value of tradition, and of what we have built up, that they are unwilling to risk it in hazardous adventures, that they stay on one side of the line. And there are others who are so sensitive to what is still wrong in our social system that they come down on the other side of the line. I do not quarrel with that, and the country does not, but I tell you with the utmost bluntness that England is quarrelling with a situation in which the free play of party politics is being cribbed and confined and imprisoned by the operation of the party machines, invested with the power of punishment and the power of reward. There is a rebellion in Britain not merely against the Government. I hope the Government does not read it that way, because that is not its real significance. There is a rebellion against the constriction and the practical destruction of democracy by the very mechanism that democracy has thrown up. That is the significance of Rugby, and Chichester, and of the long series of electoral defeats which I promise the Government will occur, unless the Prime Minister and the Government set themselves free from this particular prison.
The next condition is a united people. There is one sense in which this people 298 is united as I have never seen it in my life—on the necessity of fighting and beating Germany. But within that framework of unity there is deep disunity, and you have only to move amongst the common folk to find it out. You will not have real unity until you have real equality of sacrifice, and we are a long way from that yet, Simple men and women feel that, and it acts as a clog upon the whole war effort that at a time when we are living in a state of siege, we should still have the economics of abundance. Believe me, that is a tremendous drawback to the psychological effort of Britain at present.
Finally, I say you must have a people with hope. Members of Parliament get a mixed lot of stuff sent to them at one time or another. I had something sent to me yesterday, and I found it singularly moving. It is a poem by someone I never heard of, but it gets right to the roots of the situation in Britain and to the need for the postulation of positive aims of a better world after the war It is not only a question of economics. The dominant emotion in Britain on this subject is not a demand for equality of wealth. It is a demand for a state of society which does less violence to a man's social conscience, and less indignity to his worth as a human being, than our present state. I will quote a few verses of what this man wrote to me:
I do not know whether that moves hon. Members, but it moves me. There is the inchoate longing of a whole people in those verses. I do not want to see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping cease to be our Prime Minister, for a reason which has not once been mentioned in these Debates. I wonder how many hon. Members recognise the international significance of the Prime Minister. I saw that in America. I saw it in Canada, and, believe me, I know of no one in this House who could so grip the imagination of the Allied countries as the Prime Minister has done. But that shall not prevent us from exercising our immemorial right to question the doings of even the greatest among us. It is the quality of English democracy throughout the centuries that we have the right to call our rulers to account; and, if we do that fairly, and not with a desire to hurt, the right hon. Gentleman will be the last person to complain, and if he does complain, then he must, because this is the function of a Parliament.
- "Costers have died that culture shall remain;
- And country lads for freedom on the seas,
- Who saw no ships before they went to fight,
- And derelicts have died for decencies,
- And outcast men have perished to maintain
- The Christian faith against the powers of might.
- Oh that the nation with one voice could say
- This time the land you save shall be your own.
- This time, at last, the good rich English soil
- Shall yield to those whose hands have made it pay
- Yourselves shall profit by what you have grown
- And harvests shall belong to those who toil.
- Say this and see the land electrified
- By one galvanic, splendid, human spark.
- Add to the hate of all that Hitler holds
- Of degradation and of loathsome, dark
- Duress, the hope that victory unfolds
- Of decency, equality and pride.
- Say this, and see the man of England rise,
- Strong in the prizing of their future's worth
- To give back justice to the weak again,
- To scour the bully from the seas and earth
- Hurl down the Devil's night-hawks from the skies
- And prove to God, He made not man in vain."
I have stated what are the conditions which have to be satisfied. They are not satisfied now, and I beg the Prime Minister, even with his pre-occupation with the military aspect of this war, to take a day off, to take a week off if necessary—he has a competent deputy—and let him give his attention to these wider phases of the war effort, which in the long run may make the difference between failure and success. This Parliament is suspect in the eyes of the British people. It is an old Parliament. It was elected in 1935, under false pretences. It has renewed itself since by drawing on more yes-men to take the place of the yes-men who died. It does not represent England and England's will. I ask that we should bear in mind the possibility of a General Election even in war time. I know that the register is out of date, but we are an inventive and fertile people. We have ration books and identity cards, on which, at a pinch, we could run an Election. If that is not possible, I beg 300 the Prime Minister to put himself in harmony with the spirit of the people of this country and the rising forces of the times. The alternative will be a series of defeats of Government nominees. Nothing can save them. The more parties hang together with joint manifestos and denunciations, the more their anathemas are combined in a single strain, the more certain their defeat will be. Unless the Government put themselves in line with the spirit of the people they will get that result and we shall be told that we are atomising politics in Britain. It is not we who are doing it; it is the political machines in Britain which are defeating themselves—glory be to God!
§ Mr. Brown
Perhaps that is as near to a prayer that the hon. Member has ever come. Let the Government put themselves in harmony with the forces in the country or they will have that result. Therefore, when the Government reply to this Debate, I hope that the reply will not be confined to the narrow military point on which so much discussion has centred, I hope we shall have an answer to that, but I hope also we shall have a statement from the Leader of the House which will show that the gap between Parliament and the people is not so great as I think it is, or, if it is as great as I think it is, that steps will be taken to close it.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. Brown) on his first speech in the House after 11 years. During his absence he has lost none of his charm, or eloquence, or dynamic force, and the House has gained by the presence of his personality. The hon. Member made some reference to the absence of ordinary party controversy and the chance it gives to independent individuals who stand at by-Elections. I was a party to the so-called party truce long before there was a National Government, just after the outbreak of war. I was a reluctant party, but I was of the opinion, and my leader and colleagues were of the opinion, that it would have been a misfortune in the middle of a great war if we had the ordinary' dog-fights of party Elections. My party stood to suffer. We had candidates in the field and in many cases we had to withdraw when we wanted to fight, but in the interest of national unity we thought 301 it was for the good of the State that Elections should go unfought.
My hon. Friend mentioned Salisbury. The Liberal party have a young man in the field. He has been nursing the constituency for six years. He is a pilot officer who would have liked to fight, but he exercised a self-denying ordinance and stood down. That, of course, gives an opportunity for an independent to come in. It ought to be said in common justice to the political parties, that it is easy for party organisations to start contesting seats on ordinary party lines, but that would be disastrous to national unity and would make a National Government impossible. It would be a disaster to have a revival of ordinary party controversies in the middle of a great war.
§ Sir P. Harris
That is for the constituents to say. If bad candidates are put up, it gives an opportunity for independents to put up. I realise the danger and the nation should be conscious of it. The ordinary political parties ought to be given credit for their self-denying ordinance.
We have had a remarkably interesting Debate and these two days have been profitably employed. We owe this discussion partly to my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg), the former Under-Secretary of State for War, who for many weeks has pressed for the need of a discussion on the position of the General Staff. My hon. Friend had no reason to apologise for making his speech. On the contrary, I think it is the duty of Members who have had the advantage of Ministerial experience and have seen the inner workings of an office or a Government Department, to give the House the benefit of their experience. One of the weaknesses of the House of Commons has been that ex-Ministers have been too reluctant to help us in our discussions. I was glad that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Westmorland (Colonel Stanley), a former Secretary of State for War, gave as the benefit of his advice and counsel. For many months I have pressed him to come and help us in our Debates. Now that he has started so well and made such a valuable contribution to the issue under discussion, I hope that he will favour us 302 with speeches on many occasions. I agree with him and not with my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham. I do not believe that the position of the independent chairman, whether he is a professional or a civilian, would really strengthen the efficiency or the utility of the General Staff. The discussion carried on in another place and in "The Times" was of a useful and illuminating character, marked by a sincere desire to help the Government in the prosecution of the war, and I believe that it has been very much worth while.
But there have been some both inside this House and outside who have seen in that controversy another whip with which to chastise the Prime Minister. We have had many critical speeches, such as those by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne), the Chairman of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, of which I was for a time a member, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Clement Davies) and finally the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes). To do him justice, the hon. Member for Ipswich does not mince his words. He makes no secret of the fact that he desires to push out the Prime Minister. His business is to undermine the Prime Minister's authority and, I suppose, to discover from somewhere an alternative Prime Minister. With all his faults the Prime Minister has shown a genuine desire to meet criticism. He has given way on the smaller Cabinet; he has given way on the leadership of the House; he has given way on the principle of a Ministry of Production; and to the satisfaction of my hon. Friend the Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) he has brought a Minister from Australia into the War Cabinet. So it cannot be argued that the Prime Minister has been adamant or not sensitive to criticism.
But nothing really satisfies those critics who want to make life impossible for the present holder of the office of Prime Minister. They want to make him surrender the position of Minister of Defence. An hon. Member says, "Hear, hear." It is quite clear that the Prime Minister, with his knowledge and with his gifts, could never consent to that proposal. The Prime Minister has many faults, but he is a man of genius, imagination and ideas. No one knows more of the science 303 of war than he does. He has more knowledge of it in his little finger than any man in this House has in the whole of his head. He had vast experience in the Egyptian campaign under Kitchener, and in the Boer War and in the Great War. He has held the offices of Secretary of State for War, First Lord of the Admiralty and Minister of Munitions. No one could expect him to be an idle spectator of the machinery for the organisation for war. This constant nagging of the Prime Minister has a most deleterious effect upon our friends across the seas, and is particularly resented in Canada. It does not strengthen his authority in the country, and, with great respect to those who indulge in it, it just pleases our enemies and the leaders of the Axis Powers. What should we say if we heard critics in one of the dictator countries—if that were possible—discrediting the dictators of Germany or Italy? I say that there is a limit to criticism and that the limit is very nearly reached.
§ Sir P. Harris
The people, with great respect, are behind the Prime Minister. He still has the confidence of the nation to the same degree as when he first occupied his present position. I agree that there are critics of members of his Government, but I notice that all these Independents, one by one, put in the forefront of their election addresses their belief in and support of the Prime Minister. I think that is the answer to those who suggest that the country has lost faith in the Prime Minister. Of course, disasters, defeats and disappointments must inevitably lead to discontent, which at by-elections expresses itself against the Government. With great respect to those who, like my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham, advocate a change in the machinery of the General Staff, the position now has gone very far beyond that. This is no longer a British war, a war concerning this country only, as it was for 12 months after Dunkirk. Since the entry of Russia and the United States plans and strategy must become the common problem and the common responsibility of the United Nations and must be worked out in collaboration with the Chiefs of Staff and the leaders of those countries. We have a symbol 304 of that in the Pacific Council sitting in Washington. There General Dill and Admiral Cunningham sit cheek by jowl with American and Chinese military experts. During the last war the prelude to victory was the creation of an Allied General Staff under General Foch. In this war it is obviously impossible to concentrate military direction in the hands of any one man. The war has spread over seven seas and five continents. It is vital if we are to make the best use of our man-power and materials and to have a sound strategy which will win victory, that here in Whitehall there should be not only Americans sitting alongside our staff but also Russian and Chinese experts working in collaboration with our General Staff. Great Britain cannot win this war on her own. One of the main reasons for the criticism of our strategy in Australia, as I understand it, and of the help given her both directly and in the Pacific, is that there is a feeling that we are thinking too much in terms of Europe and the Atlantic and too little in terms of world strategy. To the Australians the Japanese are just as real a danger as the Huns are to us. When they see first Hong Kong, then Malaya, then Singapore, then the Dutch East Indies and now Burma fall into the hands of the enemy, it is natural and inevitable that they should criticise the whole of our strategy and the work of our General Staff.
There was a discussion in another place yesterday upon the tragedies of the last six months and the events which have been happening in the Pacific. I am not one of those who believe in finding scapegoats. I quite appreciate the difficulty of having a Royal Commission to inquire into the reasons for the surrender of Singapore and the loss of Burma. During the last war we had the Royal Commission into the Dardanelles campaign. It was not a good precedent. I see that Lord Hankey, who has unrivalled knowledge and great experience in this Government, suggests a Royal Commission or inquiry into the organisation in this country of those expeditions, so that we may know who worked out the plans in Whitehall. I do not think that is a practical proposition, but we should not be left in complete darkness. We should have some kind of report. If the Government cannot see their way to accede to the appointment of a Royal Commission 305 or of an official inquiry, we should be furnished at least with a White Paper or the despatches of General Wavell, which ought by now to be ready to be sent home. We shall undermine confidence, not only in this country, but in the Dominions, if the whole of this matter is pushed into the background and made a mystery of,
The Government would be wise to take the House into their confidence and to give the nation a full version of the appalling defeats and setbacks of the last six months in the Pacific. These happenings have caused a great amount of unrest in the country. No doubt the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. Brown) will give many explanations for his great success in the by-election, but I suggest that a contributory cause to the setback to Government candidates is the amount of secrecy and mystery surrounding the happenings in the Far East. Hundreds of thousands of people are concerned, especially relatives and friends of those who are prisoners. Many of us receive numerous letters from relations of these soldiers. It is a fatal blunder to create the impression that there is a desire to hush up the results of these unfortunate campaigns in the Far East.
Many of us heard the speech made by the Australian Minister of Foreign Relations, Dr. Evatt, over the wireless. He expressed the very real discontent of the people of Australia at the handling of the whole of the war in the Pacific and in the Far East. I ask the Government to give us a full report or the despatches of General Wavell, either in the form of a White Paper or in some shape, so that we may know the details and the causes. To do so will do no harm and will do much to satisfy the natural desire of the nation to know the whole truth of what happened out there. It would give no information to our enemies. The Japanese must be in full possession of all the facts and figures. To withhold this information from the country and the House will do a great deal to undermine the prestige of the Government and cause distrust at their handling of the war.
The Government would be wise to have confidence in this House and in the country. The Prime Minister has the national backing of the whole people, and not only of the three parties, but of the Independents as well. The Government must reciprocate that confidence. The Dominions are far away and out of con- 306 tact, and only read what is very often a garbled version. When there is a disaster there should be no suspicion that the Government are trying to conceal the facts from the nation and the Dominions. I wish the Prime Minister had been here during this Debate, because I believe he would have gained by it, and the House of Commons would have appreciated it. We would have had the advantage of his leadership and the magic of his eloquence and personality.
Mr. Wedderburn (Renfrew, Western)
Since the Parliamentary virginity of the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. Brown) has been unsullied for 11 years, perhaps we ought to congratulate him now on his second fall from virtue. After the last war, when President Wilson produced his 14 points, I believe that M. Clemenceau exclaimed that the good God had only 10. The hon. Member has reduced the number of the Commandments to six, but unfortunately, in his case, five of them have already been broken. His zealous denunciation of these breaches of the law was not unworthy of a minor prophet. He said that we had a Government of placemen, a defective military organisation, a shackled Parliament, and a disunited people who were unimpelled by the dynamic of hope. If I might presume to offer a word of advice to him, it is that if he wishes to preserve unity in this House, he must not talk about "England" when he means "Britain."
The demands which have been put forward for an inquiry into the circumstances of our defeat in Malaya have not been presented with the purpose of judging the conduct of the military commanders who were engaged, and who are not now in a position to give evidence, but rather to arraign the direction of our strategy from London. I do not think that such an inquiry could do much good, and it would certainly do some harm. When the inquiry was over, I do not think that our knowledge would be substantially greater than it is now, while we should needlessly have proclaimed and advertised our reverses to a world which has already overrated our failures in this war and underestimated the successes which we have achieved. The propaganda of the enemy has been fairly successful among neutral countries and has not been without effect upon our Allies. A considerable part of the American Press and public are per- 307 suaded that every British operation in the war has been feebly contrived and badly executed. They have heard a great deal about the evacuation of Crete, the loss of Norway, the surrender of Singapore and the retreat in Burma. They have not heard so much about the defence of Malta, the conquest of Abyssinia, the defeat of the German Air Force in the West, the destruction in the desert of an Italian Army which outnumbered our own by five to one, and the successful occupation of Syria, Mesopotamia and Persia.
This is not simply a question of sentiment or of pride. It is of some practical importance to the common cause, that our Allies should see what we are doing in its true proportion. There is a difference between telling the truth about our reverses and continuing to reiterate that truth month after month. Not all the neutral countries are ruled by men of very high ideals or very acute judgment. They are very easily misled; they want to be on the winning side, and they are waiting to see which way the cat will jump. It is of some practical military advantage to us that they should believe that we are fighting well and that we are winning. Even in the darkest moment of this war, in 1940, I doubt very much whether the Government of Italy, eager though they were for the cheap acquisition of territory, would have taken their fatal decision to enter this war if they had properly and objectively appreciated the facts of the situation as it then was.
Any kind of inquiry would receive the greatest prominence in the neutral and Allied Press. Would there be any countervailing advantage to weigh against it? If any tactical lessons which are to be learned from these events have not been learned already, they will certainly not be reinforced by any inquiry. If it is our desire to use those events as a reason for attacking the Government, I think we have already sufficient material for that purpose. I believe there was an inquiry in the last war into the failure of certain supplies to reach our forces in Mesopotamia during their first and unsuccessful campaign in that country. The only result of the inquiry was that the Secretary of State for India, Sir Austen Chamberlain, who was a very good Secretary of State, resigned and was replaced by another Secretary of State who was not so good.
308 The responsibility for the strategical decision which left our possessions in the Far East so comparatively undefended has been admitted and shouldered by the Government. If you want to defend Singapore in January, or Burma in April, it is necessary to begin the movement of troops and supplies on a large scale from this country in the June or September of the preceding year. Whatever the facts may be about the movements and equipment of the small forces which we did employ, I think that in effect Malaya and Burma were lost in 1941 and not in 1942. This country then had to take a decision which was bound to have the most profound effect on the course of the war, and their reasons for taking that decision must be fairly judged. In every problem of strategy and tactics, whether it is a problem of a junior officer leading a platoon into attack, or of a general commanding an army, or of an Imperial Staff conducting a war, there is nearly always more than one good answer. You very seldom have to choose between one good solution and a number of bad ones; there are nearly always two or three solutions more or less equally good. But you can only choose one; if it comes off, everybody says what a brilliant strategist you are; if it fails, everybody points to the solution which you have rejected and claims that that is the course which you ought to have followed.
What were the conditions governing the decision which had to be made in the early autumn of last year? It was evident that Japan was willing and ready to strike, and could obtain an easy initial success, but it was not certain that she would take the plunge. That was one condition. America was not then a belligerent, but it seemed probable that if Japan committed a major aggression, the American Fleet would immediately be used in the Pacific. The third condition was Russia. The invasion of Russia was attended by initial success, the German armies advanced several hundred miles in the first two months, and the best industrial regions of Russia were occupied. It seemed quite likely that by the end of the year the Caucasian oilfields would have been seized and the Russian forces thrown back to the Urals. They informed us that they could only hold out if we sent them all the supplies for which we had available shipping. That was the third condition, and the fourth condition 309 was the impending attack by General Rommel's forces in Libya against the Nile Valley.
The decision which the Government took, and which they adhered to, was to release from our own country and from our American consignments all the aeroplanes, tanks, weapons and engines of war and equipment which our Russian Allies demanded. Priority was given to them. At the same time we decided to reinforce Libya and to anticipate the projected offensive of Rommel. We insured ourselves against the two dangers which were certain; we did not insure against the danger in the Far East, which was uncertain to materialise. It is very easy to say now that if we had sent a certain fraction of the supplies and aircraft which went to Russia, it might have made all the difference in Singapore, and the Russians might have been able to carry on without it, or that General Auchinleck might have been able to do with one or two fewer armoured divisions. It is very easy to say that now. My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) said that we ought to help Russia, but not to the extent of rendering ourselves unable to defend our own Empire. The hard truth is that if Russia is victorious, it will be very easy to recover those parts of the Empire which we have lost, while if Russia is defeated, we shall then lose a great deal more of the Empire and it may be seven or eight years before our final victory is achieved.
It has often been said that the responsibility for our unpreparedness in so many theatres of war from the beginning must be shared by the whole country, by every section of the people. Certainly I think it is true to say that the British Empire is now paying the penalty of having loved peace too well. If Burma and Malaya had been ruled by the Germans, they would most certainly have raised and trained a huge native army, drilled and led by German officers, but if we in time of peace had attempted to do anything of the kind, public opinion in the country and in Parliament would have gone up in smoke. In the Debate yesterday the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) made a speech with which I do not think anybody in the House agreed, and I doubt whether the hon. Member's views would be acceptable to more than a very small handful of people outside, but if the hon. Member 310 had made the same speech—as indeed he sometimes did.—ten or even five years ago, his sentiments would have been loudly acclaimed by a very large section of our fellow-countrymen. In my own constituency, it was not until well on in 1938 that all the hecklers suddenly stopped asking me why this wicked, Imperialistic, war-mongering British Government had always spent every year the huge sum of £120,000,000 on past, present and future wars, and began asking me instead why this feeble, timorous, vacillating Government was failing to take a stand against the dictators of Europe.
The hon. Member for Shettleston has continued, with perfect consistency, to make the same speech year after year. The great majority of those who formerly agreed with him have changed their tune, not too late to enable us to win the war, but too late to enable us to win it without first enduring a great many most humiliating misfortunes. Whatever kind of new order may be established at the end of the war, I hope that the British people will be persuaded that the desire for conquest and domination will not be eradicated in a single generation from the hearts of those who are now our enemies, and perhaps not from some other countries as well. In the last war Italy was on our side. If this peaceful and amiable people could be so easily led into a career of unscrupulous, though, not always successful, aggression, possibly some other countries may suffer a similar metamorphosis. I hope, therefore, we shall be resolved that whatever kind of new order we may have, the British Empire will be well armed.
If things should begin again to go well for us in this war, the public will be loud in its praises of the Prime Minister, and perhaps even of a few of his colleagues. When things are going badly, as they have done for the last six months, the Government must, of course, take responsibility, and Parliament must take what action it thinks fit. No Government in a free country can be exempt from criticism. No Government in any country, free or unfree, can be exempt from making mistakes. I think that when the history of this war comes to be written it may he found that the blunders and miscalculations of those authoritarian rulers who deny themselves the luxury of hearing their actions disputed by their subjects have been far more serious than any of our own errors. I do not know what we should have said if the 311 British Government had launched the greater part of our forces, and sacrificed several million lives, in an unsuccessful aggression against a great neighbouring country with whom we had a pact of friendship and from whom we were getting supplies. The German General Staff advised Hitler that Russia could be subdued in a few months. I have not studied the constitution of the German General Staff so closely as have some of my hon. Friends, but I understand that in Germany they do have a combined Service chief of all the three Services. I do not know precisely what his relations are with Hitler. If any German general disagrees with Hitler, he does not have to retire on grounds of ill-health, for his indisposition is usually fatal before that becomes necessary. Nor is it easy for members of the Reichstag to advocate changes in the German military machine. In this country we are all at liberty, within the limits permitted by the Home Secretary, which I think are fairly wide and reasonably tolerant, to abuse and criticise the Government as much as we like. I am not asking that the Government should be exonerated from any proper responsibility but only that the facts should be fairly assessed. It seems to me that it is our duty at the present time to strengthen the confidence felt by our own public and our Allies in a leader who has the genius and resolution to guide us along the hard road we must follow, to its victorious end.
§ Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)
Hon. Members may be surprised to learn that, like the hon. Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg), the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Westmorland (Colonel Stanley) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha), I also have experience of the War Office. However, I do not propose to comment on the technical problem of the Ministry of Defence and the Chiefs of Staff except to utter a warning. There has been much conflicting evidence, but it is clear that some modification, some readjustment, some improvement, is essential. But having said that, and in the hope that my right hon. and learned Friend opposite will furnish a considered reply to the submissions that have been represented by Members in the course of the Debate, I venture to hope that we shall not discover that 312 beneath this agitation there lurks any intention of promoting a military superman to the post of Minister of Defence, with no responsibility to this House. Otherwise the protagonists will meet with the sternest opposition in the House and in the country. So far I have been unable to discover any superman among the Higher Command. Without any disrespect to them, it is my conviction that, although many of us are far from satisfied with the direction of the war, if the choice is—and I am not certain that it is the only choice—between the Prime Minister, who is the head of the Government, and a supreme military chief who would be responsible for major strategy, we prefer the Prime Minister. I trust that this belated support for the Prime Minister will not be misunderstood. If so, I shall endeavour to correct the impression in my subsequent observations.
Before I proceed to discuss what I sincerely believe is the substance of the Debate, may I say—and I believe that in this I reflect the opinion of almost every hon. Member in the House, whatever his views may be regarding the Prime Minister—that the absence of the right hon. Gentleman from our deliberations to-day is highly reprehensible? From his own standpoint, as much as for the advantage of the House and the nation, his presence was highly desirable. After all, with the greatest respect to my right hon. Friends opposite, and undoubtedly there is much ability to be found on that Bench, there can be no dispute about it, whatever our views may be of their policy, that it is unfortunate, as I see it, that in matters of strategy, in matters of defence, in matters which relate to the operations of the Higher Command there is only one person who can speak with knowledge and, what is more, with authority, and that is the Prime Minister. It is a very melancholy fact, but one which cannot be disputed, that the three Service departmental chiefs are, stripped of ordinary departmental and administrative functions, very largely in the hands of the Prime Minister. I sometimes think that one, if not two, of them has been hypnotised by the Prime Minister. I am not so certain that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War is to be, as yet, included in that category. But his time may come. The Prime Minister exercises an overwhelming authority over the Service Departments. 313 That is the reason why he should have been present, if not to speak, at any rate to sense the atmosphere of the House. That cannot always be sensed by the reception of reports submitted by his Parliamentary Private Secretary, or even by Cabinet Ministers. There are many other reasons why the right hon. Gentleman should have been present. However, he has made up his mind not to be present, and we must bear his absence with our customary fortitude.
Stripped of verbiage and futilities, only two questions of real substance have emerged during this Debate. The first is, What are the causes of our failure; and, arising from that, What are the precise lessons we have learned from our bitter experience, and how do we propose to correct the defects which are now obvious to everybody? The second question is, What measures have we in contemplation for the future in order to achieve victory? In my submission, all other matters are either irrelevant or unworthy of serious attention. We have had, I am bound to say, a succession of amusing and entertaining speeches, some of them speeches of an almost personal character, revealing the speaker's innermost soul, auto-biographically. But that is not the kind of speech that is wanted in a Debate of this nature, when hon. Members are agreed that we have our backs to the wall, that we are fighting for our lives, that we are facing a deadly peril. Our Setbacks, strategic retreats, rearguard actions—of which there have been too many—and disasters, all of which have been frequently mentioned in this Debate, are familiar to everybody. They are admitted by the Government. On this issue there is no dispute. Why go over the ground? We know what has happened. We have lost large tracts of Empire territory which will be difficult to recover; thousands of men and officers have surrendered to the enemy; much valuable equipment has been lost, thus increasing our difficulties; our Allies are heavily assailed at this moment, and call for our assistance; and, within sight of three years of war, we have not yet forged the instruments of victory. Of course, we survive, as some hon. Members have observed. Of course, we survive, which some regard as a miracle. But it will not be denied that the enemy has made many mistakes: for example, the failure to attack after Dunkirk, the stupid and 314 wanton aggression against Russia, which was worth many divisions to us, and much more, all of which proved beneficial to ourselves, but for which we can claim little credit.
Let us consider what is the case for the Government. It is important that we should understand it. Why did we fail to maintain our position in the Far East? The case has been stated by the Prime Minister in a previous Debate. We have had all this before. He ascribed our failure in Hong Kong and in Singapore to the clamant need for sending large quantities of war material to our Russian Allies. I am within the recollection of hon. Members in making that statement. Indeed, that explanation was accepted by the majority in this House. They regarded it as a feasible, and, indeed, an excellent, explanation. But since then we have lost, in conjunction with our Dutch Allies, the Dutch East Indies—Java and Sumatra—and, moreover, we have now lost Burma. All this has happened since the Prime Minister furnished the explanation of the cause of our failure in Hong Kong and Singapore. What was the cause of our failure in the Dutch East Indies, and what was the cause of our failure in Burma? Was it because we had despatched such a vast quantity of war material to Russia? If so, Russia must have secured a vast quantity of material, much more either than Russia expected to receive or than we; have been able to send her. But it is open for the Government to reassure hon. Members on this head. If they can demonstrate that our losses in the Dutch East Indies and in Burma were attributable to the need for despatching a vast quantity of war materials to Russia, as in the case of Hong Kong and Singapore, that is a point to be considered. Then we have to weigh in the balance the advantages and the disadvantages, whether it is more desirable to rally to the assistance of Russia with all the arms we can spare or to render assistance to the Empire. It is a matter for careful consideration. But we want some explanation.
At this stage, I indulge in what might appear to be a digression. A demand has been made for an inquiry into the causes of our failure in Singapore. The Government have rejected the claim for such an inquiry. But, indeed, there is no 315 need for an inquiry, as I shall show. There sits on the Treasury Bench at this moment a right hon. Gentleman who was himself in Singapore. It is true that, because of the exigencies of the situation, it was necessary for him to leave, but he was there at the time when the organisation for defence was being prepared—at any rate, a part of the time. He was our representative on the spot appointed by the Government. Never a word have we heard from my right hon. Friend of what transpired. I am far from attaching blame to my right hon. Friend. He is the servant of the Government, but it must be remembered that he is also the servant of this House. It would be very interesting if he had intervened in the Debate and had satisfied and reassured hon. Members and had furnished explanations. He was in close association with the Military Command and presumably with those responsible for combined operations. It would be interesting if we could hear from the lips of the right hon. Gentleman what instructions he received from London, and far more interesting to hear what representations he made to London. For example, in view of his discovery, did he suggest to London that it was idle to send further reinforcements, or did he demand more reinforcements, and what was the attitude of those responsible for the main strategy here? There is nothing personal in this, certainly nothing personal against my right hon. Friend, as I am sure he will appreciate, but we are entitled to know. Therefore, you do not require a judicial inquiry deliberating and investigating for a long period of time. My right hon. Friend could acquaint us of the facts. Now, as the Deputy Prime Minister said yesterday, we must wait for a long time, because we cannot make contact with the people who were on the spot. One of the men who were on the spot, at least part of the time, is one of his colleagues, and all that he requires to do is to walk along the corridor and have a talk with him about it. Of course, if my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy has no information to impart, let him say so. But this is merely a digression, and there I leave it.
Was it lack of air power? There was some talk in the course of the Debate—and hon. Members who were present must have listened with great interest to the 316 excellent speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devon-port (Mr. Hore-Belisha), who referred to the subject—of the need for dive-bombers. We cannot talk too freely about that subject in Public Session, but let us consider the statements made by Ministers. Take one of them, that of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air. I really wish he were present, because I prefer to speak in his presence rather than in his absence, but I make no complaint about that, as he probably has important business elsewhere. The right hon. Gentleman recently made a speech in which, to use a blunt expression, he bragged of our air power and of how we were going to bomb the German towns out of existence. He said that then will come the time for invasion, invasion not of Great Britain, but of the Continent. He must have known what he was talking about. At any rate, it is presumed that Ministers know what they are talking about.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, who is doing an excellent job of work in his Department, occasionally intervenes in strategic matters, as no doubt he is entitled to do, because he is a member of the War Cabinet. He expressed the opinion the other week that within a week or two we should reach parity with Germany in the air. But that has been said over and over again. When I was thinking of something to say in this big Debate I had to peruse a very large number of quotations, and I was really staggered by the optimism and the assurances of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. It could not have been lack of air power, because we have got the aircraft, or have we not? Surely, it could not have been production. We have been told by Ministers that we have reached the acme in output, that we have nearly topped the ridge, if I may use the language of the Prime Minister, or at any rate we can see the top of the ridge of production. Besides, we have a Minister of Production. We have had him for nearly four months. We must bear that in mind. It cannot be production. But I beg hon. Members to note that, if it is lack of air power or if it is lack of production, then that is a damning indictment of the Government. They have had the opportunity. They used to find an excuse in the fact that we lost so much equipment at Dunkirk, but Dunkirk is a long way off now. What is the excuse? I prefer to 317 assume that we have the equipment, but if the Government will have it the other way, whatever they plead, I prefer, nevertheless, to believe that we have the material.
Was it shipping? I have spoken so often on the shipping question that it has become nauseating even to myself, but I had occasion to have extracted a large number of notes of speeches made in this House and elsewhere by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, and particularly during the Warships Weeks by my right hon. Friend and colleague, if I may dare to call him a colleague, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and the optimism conveyed in these quotations is absolutely staggering. We were told we had all the shipping which is necessary in our replacement programme or in our plans, and that our losses at sea were diminishing. It is true that we discovered a little later that the position was serious, but we were always on the optimistic front. What are the facts? It was my intention to discuss the shipping position at some length, but I will content myself with the statement in to-night's "Evening Standard" made by Mr. Walter Lippmann, the American columnist, and, if Mr. Water Lippmann's views are rejected because he is merely a columnist, I ask hon. Members to study the statements by Admiral Land, the Chairman of the United States Maritime Commission. It is not fair and it is not playing the game, either by the people of this country or the people of the United States or of Russia, to speak in such an optimistic vein of the shipping position. It is not satisfactory.
Mr. Walter Lippmann states that Allied ships are being sunk faster than they are being built, and that we well know, and that U-boats are being built faster than they are being sunk. That is a very serious statement, and therefore I am bound to say that we cannot regard the Government as blameless in this matter. I have frequently advanced the contention that, 12 or 18 months ago we should have prepared a programme for the building of speedy vessels that would have gone out without convoy, well-armed and capable of carrying a few aircraft, as the Japs have done, and surely what the Japs have done, this great country, with all its skill and craftsmanship, can do. We were the pioneers in shipbuilding. If we had proceeded with a programme along those lines we might have saved 318 ourselves a great deal of suffering. However, there is still time, because if this war is to be prolonged, as I believe it is to be prolonged, let us assume that we are beginning afresh. Let us depart from these silly traditions, these private-enterprise notions, these vested interests and these futile conceptions that an;; cluttering up the war effort. Do not let us allow anybody to stand in the way. It is significant that Lord Leathers, the Minister of Transport, is agreeing to a proposal that ships built by the Government on Government account are to be handed over to private owners. May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend opposite whether he agrees with that policy? It is not consistent with that inspiring declaration which he made to the House when he assumed office.
I doubt whether any Government in our history have been more often so readily excused for their failures. It is a miracle that the Government have survived. I will tell you why the Government have survived, and I hope my hon. Friends behind me will not take offence. They have survived because Labour is in the Government. If Labour was not in the Government, the Government would not have lasted as long. The Government are being propped up by the presence of Labour men in the Government. [Laughter.] Is that unacceptable? It may be unacceptable, but it is true. Whether hon. Members like it or not, that is my opinion, and many opinions I have ventured to express—and I say this without egoism—have been rejected by the House during the last two years, but have been ultimately accepted.
What of the future? We have to face up to the question of a second front, and I use the description as I believe it ought to be used. At no time have I ever demanded, on any public platform in this country or elsewhere, that we should undertake an invasion on a vast scale on the Western front. The question of where an invasion should take place is a matter for the Government. But let us consider Government statements. I direct attention to a statement made by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister in his speech yesterday, when he said that we could not indulge in speculations about the future, that he could make no prophecies about the Western front and that he could only say that the threat of an offensive was 319 important. My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House must say whether he agrees with that statement, because there appears to be some confusion. The Leader of the House is in more aggressive mood. He believes we can strike, and that aggression is needed. The Prime Minister, in his broadcast the other night, said that he was inspired by the spirit of aggression which animated the people of this country, but even the Prime Minister is not altogether in agreement with hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I would like to say something now which occurs to me because of what was said yesterday by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Westmorland (Colonel Stanley). What he said was loudly applauded, and that is all the more reason why I should express an opinion. He said we must not allow public clamour to determine our strategy. That is perfectly true. Public clamour should not determine the precise form of strategy, or whether you should strike, or how you should strike, but public clamour is entitled to be heard as to where you should strike. Do not ignore public clamour. There would not be a single Member in this House if it were not for pubic clamour. My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House would not have been in the Government had it not been for public clamour. It is highly desirable that the people of this country should show this aggressive spirit. What would hon. Members say if they knew that the public were not animated by a spirit of aggression but by a spirit of defeatism? They would seek to re-animate the people of this country. So, as I have said, do not ignore or deprecate this public clamour; it is very desirable. Besides, public clamour was to some extent responsible for the change in Government two years ago. I would ask my right hon. and learned Friend opposite to say to the House that the Government will speak with one voice. I do not ask him the exact date when aggression is to take effect or the precise geographical position of the attack, but I will ask him to give an assurance that it is the intention of the Government to attack.
I come now to the question of Russia and the Eastern front. I say nothing about the undaunted valour of our Russian comrades. We are all familiar 320 with that and take it for granted, but we allowed Russia to carry on the struggle last autumn unaided, apart from some assistance in the form of war material. In the winter our Ally was responsible for what was regarded by us all as an amazing resistance. But everybody expected that in the spring—if not in the early spring, at any rate in the early summer—when the expected offensive would be mounted by the Nazis, we should come to the aid of Russia, not merely with munitions, but with forces on some front. I believe that was the general expectation. If it was not the expectation, did we expect Russia to fight alone, unaided, and defeat the might of the Nazi military machine? Is that our belief? I hope, as every hon. Member does, that our Russian Ally can defeat the Nazis without assistance, but is it not desirable that we should participate in the victory? Surely it is.
Consider the political and other implications of a Russian victory over the Germans without the aid of Britain. Is that desirable? We must be in this fight. We must engage in the conflict. [HON. MEMBERS: "We are."] We must be there when the victory is achieved. Some hon. Members say, "We are." I mean in relation to the Eastern front and the Continent. Is Madagascar the answer? Is Ethiopia the answer? Are our commando raids on a small scale—they are very heroic, I agree—the answer? No, Sir; it calls for aggression on an overwhelming scale. If I am told by hon. Members, as we have been told, that this involves sacrifice, and that if we mean to attack we must be adequately prepared, then I accept all that, but I say also that at some stage in this conflict we have got to be prepared to take great risks. If we are not prepared to take great risks, Russia may be defeated. Is not that a possibility? And if Russia is defeated, I doubt whether the British Empire will survive. If you analyse the situation, considering the loss of Empire territory, considering our diminished shipping capacity, considering the lag in American production, about which a great deal could be said, surely you must accept at any rate the theory that if Russia falls our salvation is involved. It is a very serious matter. Therefore, I ask for action.
If I were asked bluntly what kind of action is desired, I would say this: Here 321 I do not expect any hon. Member to agree with me. The Deputy Prime Minister, in the course of his speech, spoke about the advantage of the threat of an offensive. I agree. Instead of Government spokesmen saying we cannot announce our intentions to Hitler because that would be telling him what we propose to do, I would prefer the opposite method. I would tell Hitler what we propose to do. I would say that next week, at any rate, we propose to put 500,000 men on the Continent, that we have the ships, we have the guns, we have the tanks, and we have the air power. I would tell him at the same time that we propose to invade Norway and to attack from Murmansk through Finland, because if we could suppress the resistance of the Finns and gain entry to the Baltic, we could strike a heavy blow at the Nazis and aid our Russian comrades. At the same time, I would strike at the heel of Italy. I would tell Hitler all that. [An HON. MEMBER: "Would you do it?"] Would I do it? I would tell him. Surely, it is of the highest importance that we should keep Hitler on tenterhooks.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Would Hitler believe me? If I am asked whether Hitler believes the Government—because that is what I presume the hon. and gallant Gentleman means—I confess the question puts me in some difficulty, because occasionally I have to doubt the word of the Government. But it is necessary to maintain the threat and to give the appearance of aggression—to support it and fortify it materially, of course, but to go on threatening. I do not complain when right hon. Gentlemen threaten offensive action. I ask them to support it.
I want now to ask my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Privy Seal what changes were effected by the reconstruction of the Government? So far we have hardly seen anything that is valuable. In India, the negotiations ended in failure, and on that question, the political implications of which are very serious, we are entitled to hear from the right hon. Gentleman whether the Government have completely set aside any possible attempt at a resumption of negotiations, or whether they are going to make another and serious effort to bring the mass of 322 Indians on to our side. That is highly important. What other advantage has been derived from the changes in the Government? Lord Woolton is now regulating the price of hotel meals. There is an attempt made to promote regional organisation—but it is not altogether satisfactory—as regards production. Apart from that, can my right hon. Friend truly say that, as a result of this injection of oxygen into the Government, any substantial change has been effected? I doubt whether it has.
Who is to blame? It is very important that we should know. Why is it that these vast changes which are rendered necessary by the turn of events, economic and social, as well as strategical, have not been brought about? Who stands in the way? We are often told by hon. Members opposite that we must not advance our doctrinaire claims because hon. Members opposite are not advancing their political claims. But they do not require to do so. They are in possession. The industries of the country belong to the capitalist class. They have everything. The change has to be effected. It has to be effected in order to raise the morale of the people of this country. For example, in the matter of coal, for the last 2½years there have been mess and muddle in the coal industry, and the Government have fiddled about with the problem instead of facing it and standing up to the vested interests. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen do not like this; they do not want their economic doctrines disturbed, but those doctrines have to be disturbed, otherwise we cannot win the war, because our strategy depends mainly, in the ultimate, on a sound economic strategy. I want to ask my right hon. and learned Friend whether the Government realise the importance of the social and economic factors. At any rate he must, because he is a Socialist; at any rate, he said so in his speech at Britsol last week. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend—I say this in the most friendly spirit—is not going to be a demagogue. We had one before who said he was a Socialist and was in a Coalition Government—Mr. Ramsay MacDonald. It is easy enough to make these declarations; it is another matter to apply your principles. My right hon. Friend must not allow anybody to stand in the way of the advancement of these principles if he believes that their 323 advancement will help us to win the war. If he finds difficulty, let him come and tell us, and we will deal with it.
In a final word, I must say something about the suggestions made on the Benches opposite—and sometimes, I am sorry to say, on these Benches—about the suppression of criticism. There came into my hands the other day a very interesting quotation. It is contained in a copy of "Punch" for the year 1901. We were then engaged in a war that some of us can recall, the Boer War. Then we had a Conservative Government, headed by the Marquess of Salisbury. But there was at that time in the country a cheeky young politician, aggressive, always thirsting for information, standing up to the Government of the day, refusing to be knocked down. This is what he said:He had made up his mind to indulge this autumn in the rare political luxury of saying exactly what he thought, but he had no wish to go on nagging at the Government on every occasion, and so he would leave the subject of the military conduct of the war, about which he could say nothing that would please them.—Mr. Winston Churchill.Surely we can take a leaf out of the book of the right hon. Gentleman? Surely it is not wrong to search for information, to demand it and make a noise about it, or, occasionally, when you despise the Government, as he did on that occasion, to put your nose up in the air and show your discontent? It is true that that was a small war, but that the right hon. Gentleman was a small man—not as he is now. Lastly, I give this quotation:At the Lord Mayor's Banquet in November, 1901, Lord Salisbury deprecated the spirit of pessimism, and declared that in spite of discouraging incidents the war was making very substantial progress.It is precisely the kind of speech which might have been delivered yesterday by a member of the Government. It does not matter what hon. Members say about criticism. Criticism is determined by events. It does not lie in the mouths of certain hon. Gentleman to complain, for upon them rests responsibility for neglecting the shipbuilding industry and the coal industry. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about armaments? "] If hon. Members want a reply to that question, I will give them one on behalf of the whole Labour party. Our proposal before the war, and for many years before the war, was that we should make our national contribution to an international armaments pool, and, 324 strangely enough, there was no more redoubtable protagonist of that proposal in the country than the Prime Minister himself, who expounded eloquently on the principle of collective security. The Conservative Government boasted before the war of their armament expenditure, but where did all the armaments go? Never mind what happened before the war; it is what is happening during the war with which we are concerned. There is one satisfactory feature of the situation, and that is that this House is determined to be a master and not an executive. Democracy is still alive, and, as long as the flame of democracy is alive in this country, it is possible for us, in spite of our enemies, in spite of the mistakes of the Government and all the setbacks and disasters, to emerge triumphant.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Sir Stafford Cripps)
With the final observations of the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), I am sure every one in this House will agree. I want first to refer to the request which was made earlier by certain hon. Members and to the observations which have been made by the hon. Member for Seaham on the point that the Prime Minister should take part in this Debate. I said a word about it earlier; I should now like to amplify that statement and make quite clear to the House what is the Prime Minister's view upon this matter. The House will recollect that, when the reorganisation of the Cabinet was carried out in March of this year, the Prime Minister took the step of appointing a Leader of the House of Commons in his place, as he had found it increasingly hard, in the extremely anxious times and complicated war conditions through which we were then passing, to conduct his vital and essential duties as Prime Minister and as Minister of Defence, and, in addition, give that constant attention to the business of the House which he always stated and believed it should have from the Leader of the House. This arrangement, as the House will recollect, was greeted with approval by hon. Members.
The Prime Minister does, nevertheless, come to the House of Commons from time to time to make statements upon the War Situation—such statements as he alone can make. He did so at very great length only a few weeks ago, and he does not feel that so soon after that occasion he can make a fresh statement 325 which, would add materially to his former one. I must also point out that statements of this kind on war policies from the head of a Government ought not to be made too frequently, as they are and can be scrutinised most carefully by the enemy who may get comfort or information from them. The Government, therefore, consider it is better that the present Debate should be dealt with by other Members of the War Cabinet, who are fully conversant with all the material fact's and all the policies of the Government. No one has done more than the Prime Minister to maintain the position of Parliament during the difficult times of the war, and his inability to address the House frequently arises only from the persistent calls upon his time and thought in other directions, and not from any desire to deprive the House either of his advice or views. Of course, if in any specific case a Motion were set down involving confidence in the Prime Minister, he would then himself be present and take part in the Debate, but Debates, such as these upon a Motion for the Adjournment, are felt to lie within the sphere, and, I hope, within the competence, of the Leader of the House.
This two-day Debate has ranged over the widest possible area, not only geographically, but as regards the subjects which have been dealt with in it. A great many questions and doubts have been voiced by Members, but many, if not most of them, are by no means new and relate to events which are now part of the history, albeit in some cases the unfortunate history, of the past. Two main lines of criticism have been put forward, first as to what a number of Members, including the hon. Member for Seaham, have referred to as unexplained misfortunes of the past months and, in some cases, years, and, secondly, as to the machinery for conducting the war effort, whether it be in the major matters of strategy or in matters of production. The hon. Member for Seaham has just stated that, in his view, certain speeches made by Ministers of the Crown have tended to be over-optimistic. I am sure the Members of the War Cabinet are as conscious of the seriousness of the present situation as is the hon. Member himself, and the fact that some, or all of them, have been able, with the Prime Minister, to see the emergence of a new and fresh stage of the war, does not mean that they 326 neglect in any way whatsoever the difficulties and dangers which still face us in all parts of the world.
Before dealing with those two main points which have been brought forward, I should like to make one or two general observations. Debates of this kind on the general War Situation take place primarily in order to enable those who have criticisms of the Government and of its conduct of the war to come forward and state those criticisms before the House and the public. The Government has always afforded these opportunities and itself listens to and studies the full and often constructive criticism of all those who, equally with the Cabinet, we believe, desire the maximum efficiency in the conduct of the war. We, rightly, pride ourselves as a nation that, even in the most difficult times and amidst even the most severe reverses in the field, this free exchange of views can take place between the Government and Members of the House of Commons in an open forum. It is essential, however, that both the country and our Allies, and indeed the whole world, should understand that such freedom of discussion does not mark any lack of purpose in our war effort but rather a combined desire to make that effort as telling and as great as possible.
Naturally, in the course of such Debates very few of those who speak find little to criticise in the actions of the Government, and even those who do find little, insist upon those points of criticism in their speeches. As a result the Debate is apt to appear to outsiders, who do not understand the temper of the House of Commons, far more hostile to the Administration, and may be to the carrying on of the war, than it is in reality. I should like to make it plain, nevertheless, that the Government bases itself, as it always has done, unreservedly upon the House of Commons on questions of confidence. If, at any time, any substantial body of Members, whether organised in a party or not, wished to put down a Motion which could be carried through to a Division, the Government would feel bound to give them facilities. Such a course would be wholly in accord with our Parliamentary traditions and it would be free from the possible disadvantage caused in other countries by Debates which, naturally full of complaint and criticism, have no possibility of terminating in a vote by the House itself.
327 There is one other general observation that I should like to make. It is upon the difficulty of viewing the situation in any particular theatre of war, such as, let us say, Singapore, in its true association strategically and politically with the situation in all other theatres of war. Never before has a war been so far-flung and hostilities carried on in areas so widely separated by land and sea. In addition to this geographical fact, a great body of independent nations have been and are fighting side by side against the Axis, and the coordination of their military, naval and air activities is a task of the greatest complexity and of physical and geographical difficulty. There is and there can be no centralised command in a war which is being waged from Australia to the Arctic Ocean and throughout the breadth of the Pacific and Atlantic areas. Moreover, in such a world-wide battle, places which to one country, say ourselves, may seem of comparatively less strategic importance may appear to another country, for instance America or Australia, as absolutely vital for their own defence.
Where the totality of the Allied forces is not only smaller at a given time than that of their opponents in a large area, as has been the case hitherto in the Pacific area, but where, also, a number of countries such as ourselves, America, Australia, and the Dutch are all vitally interested in the disposition of those forces, it must necessarily become a matter of strategic and political discussion how those forces are to be disposed. It has been necessary in such circumstances—in the Pacific area it became necessary at an earlier stage—to set up a supreme commander for very large areas of sea and land, containing mixed forces of different nationalities and to give that commander the largest possible measure of discretion in the disposition of the forces in that area, whether they were sent to one territory or another. In the actual conduct of operations, in the movement and application of reinforcements assigned by the central governments to any particular theatre, the local commander-in-chief must have fullest discretion. The question of what forces should be assigned to a particular theatre is one for the governments concerned, and it can only be settled ultimately by the government of each country which controls its own forces, either singly or by 328 consultation and agreement through some inter-Allied strategical machinery.
There is a further fact which seems to have escaped the notice of some of the critics of the Government. That is the extreme difficulty of rapid movement of troops and air forces over immense distances and in the rapidly changing circumstances of war. In this matter our enemies have a great advantage over us both in the East and in the West. Germans and Italians in Europe have interior lines of communication by which they can rapidly move forces from one front to another, whereas we always have to move round the periphery. The Japanese, since they achieved control of the Pacific, which they are holding temporarily, have the advantage of internal sea lanes of communication throughout the Pacific area. This enables them rapidly to concentrate forces wherever they wish to strike and it has rendered it extremely difficult for the commander-in-chief on the spot to decide or foretell where any blow is likely to fall next, and concentrate his forces rapidly upon that point. Such a task is obviously one of great difficulty, fraught with the greatest uncertainty as to the success or otherwise of the result. When an enemy has superior numbers and holds the initiative, it is all the more difficult when he also holds interior lines of communication. I agree with the view expressed by the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) that in these circumstances it is indeed surprising that worse results have not ensued.
I would like to take this opportunity of giving the House just one word about one of these difficult situations, that is to say, the situation in Malta. I do not think that either the House or the country realises the enormous degree of attack which Malta has suffered, and the enormous number of aircraft we have had to get into Malta in order to counter that attack. The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) said that it was ridiculous of my right hon. Friend to say that a large part of the German Air Force had been held by Malta. Let me give him this fact. During the month of April no fewer than 5,000 sorties were flown by the Germans against Malta, and more bombs were dropped on the island during that period than were dropped on this country in any month during the worst period of the blitz. And if one realises the area of Malta compared with 329 the area of this country one appreciates what a vast concentration there was, and people here are fairly familiar with the fact that there was a very considerable German air force during the worst months of the blitz.
§ Sir John Wardlaw-Milne (Kidderminster)
As my right hon. and learned Friend has mentioned a statement I made, may I say that I was referring to the proportion of the German air force compared to their total force? If we realise the forces that must be in use against Russia and kept for all the other theatres of war in which Germany is engaged, I do not think my remark was so ridiculous.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I did not say it was ridiculous. I said the hon. Member would realise that a very considerable proportion of the German Air Force was, in tact, used and held against Malta.
Let me refer to the position of Australia. A number of Members have raised the question of our attitude towards Australia. As was pointed out by my right hon. Friend, from an operational point of view, Australia has fallen into the sphere of American help, but that dots not mean that, from the supply point of view, Australia is similarly left to the mercies, the tender mercies, no doubt, of America. Supplies to Australia fall to be determined by the Allied Governments just as supplies to any other theatre, and I am quite certain that the Australians can be sure that we shall do our utmost, balancing their needs against urgent needs in other theatres of war, to give them a similar measure of help in their dire necessity to what they were prepared to give us in our time of dire necessity. I think the House can be satisfied that Australia will have every sympathy and every help that we can possibly give her in these difficult times. The hon. Member for Seaham mentioned in association with the Pacific matter the question of shipping and asked, were we not too optimistic compared with Mr. Lippmann? One cannot take statements made as regards shipping at different periods and compare them. Before Japan came into the war, the situation as regards shipping was very different from what it is to-day. Before the great risks now being run in the Pacific and the losses that have taken place there and elsewhere, and before America came into the war and there were 330 U-boats on the American eastern coast, circumstances were different. We are as perfectly aware as we have been throughout of the critical need for doing our utmost to cope with this situation, and both here and in America the question of shipbuilding is always under most urgent consideration and review.
May I now come to the point which has been raised by the hon. Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) and others as regards the Chiefs of Staff Committee? I think it is just as well to be, as the House has been, quite frank about this matter. As I see it, this is a claim after a period of continued reverses, not unmixed with success—which is sometimes forgotten—for some different higher direction of the war than is at present provided by the Prime Minister and the War Cabinet advised by the Chiefs of Staff Committee.
§ It being the hour appointed for the interruption of Business, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Major Sir James Edmondson.]
§ Sir S. Cripps
If hon. Members think that there should be a change, it is certainly and obviously their duty to speak for and to vote for that change, since that is the function of the House of Commons in our Constitution, but I suggest it is no use trying to accomplish that change—a change of personnel, if that is what hon. Members want—by some alteration of the machinery of Government which would not be adapted to the personalities or the policies of the Government which may be in power. So long as the particular Government remain in power, they must be the best judge, I think, of how they can carry on their business, subject always, of course, to their willingness to investigate and, if they think right, to adopt, any suggested alterations of machinery that may be brought forward by way of constructive criticism of whatever they are doing.
In the minds of the Press, and probably of some members of the public too, there is, I think, a demand to discover a superman who would be able to control not only the Chiefs of Staff but the Prime Minister and the War Cabinet as well. I do not believe that such a man exists, but if he did, he would not be the best person to 331 win a war in a democratic country. Let me come down to the actual proposition as it is put forward. It is suggested that there should be a chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee of one kind or another. Some suggest that he should be a serving officer of one of the Forces, some that he should be an independent civilian, and others that he should be a Minister subordinated to the Minister of Defence. That difference in view as to the class of person required in itself demonstrates that there is a sort of vague search after the superman who will win the war. The majority of views, nevertheless, seem to be in favour of an officer of one of the Forces.
The inadvisability of having such a chairman was very well demonstrated in the brilliant and entertaining speech of the right hon. and gallant Member for Westmorland (Colonel Stanley), who has intimate and personal experience of these matters. To me, his argument seemed overwhelming, and the instance that he cited of what would have occurred if there had been such a person in the case of an operation such as that against Madagascar brings out very clearly the undesirability of creating such an office. I think we all agree that it is essential, both for the Minister of Defence and for the War Cabinet, to be advised on strategic matters, from the purely military point of view in the first instance, and that they should then bring to bear upon the military appreciations those other, political, considerations which are outside the scope of their professional advisers. But the War Cabinet also desire to have the advice of a first-class Defence Minister, and there is no one in this country with a wider and longer experience of Defence problems than the Prime Minister. It is alleged, I think by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), that the Prime Minister interferes politically with the Chiefs of Staff in the formulation of their technical advice, and also that his overwhelming personality tends to drown their professional initiative.
The other myth which has been put forward has been that of the occult Influence exercised by General Ismay, who is a member of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. That, I think, was probably wholly disposed of by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Westmorland. If the connection between the Chiefs of Staff were to be, not as now 332 through the three Chiefs of Staff but through a single chairman, as has been pointed out, that chairman would of necessity be a member of and have all the traditions of one of the three Services—whichever it might happen to be, and presumably it would be the Army—and in such a case, wherever there were separate considerations from the naval or air points of view, the War Cabinet could not content itself with having those considerations interpreted to it through the mouth of an Army officer, however eminent he might be, but would want to discuss it as it does now with the naval and air Chiefs of Staff.
So far as military matters are concerned, it is difficult to understand whether the military chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee or the Chief of the Imperial General Staff himself would be the more important adviser, and therefore would be chosen from the better man. At best the two would agree, in which case it would be mere duplication. At the worst they would disagree, in which case the War Cabinet would have to decide between different technical appreciations presented by two professional gentlemen of high authority. It is essential, in my view, that the War Cabinet should discuss these matters with the actual executive heads of the Services, who not only tender advice but are responsible for carrying out the decisions of the War Cabinet and putting them into actual operation. Divorcing the War Cabinet from all the operational experience and responsibility of the Chiefs of Staff would, I believe, be an impossible practice.
There seems to be an assumption underlying a good deal of the criticism that the Prime Minister, as I have said, is so overpowering a personality that nobody dares to discuss or debate these matters with him. It is true that he has the advantage of a very great knowledge of naval, military and air matters, drawn from long experience and from holding the post of Minister of Defence for two years during this war. It certainly does not mean, however, that other members of the War Cabinet defer to his views without discussion, and without themselves bringing their judgment to bear upon the matters before them. I can assure the House that the debates in the Cabinet are constant, active and often lively, and that the Prime Minister as 333 Minister of Defence submits to the control of the Cabinet just as other Ministers do in their sphere of activity. I am also convinced that, given the present personalities of the Prime Minister and of the Government, the alteration that is suggested would not effect any improvement and would, indeed, tend to hamper and make Jess effective the supreme war direction of the country. That must be taken to be the settled view at the present time of His Majesty's Government on this point. Another point of a somewhat analogous kind was raised by one hon. Member with regard to a question of the re-organisation in the War Office and the introducing of more technical advisers or executive members at a higher level. I had intended to say a word about that, but in view of the advance of the clock I must leave it to be dealt with on a different occasion.
Now I want, if I may, to come to the suggestion that, in view of the series of reverses which we have suffered, especially in the Pacific area, some form of public inquiry should be initiated by the Government in order to ascertain who is to blame for those reverses. The hon. Member who has just spoken was good enough to say that there should not be an inquiry if it was not necessary. I agree with him on that, but it is perhaps worth while mentioning in passing that reverses on the battlefield are not always the result of negligence or stupidity. They may be the result of the unfortunate fact that the enemy, in a particular locality, is stronger, and inevitably stronger, than you are and that it may be necessary to fight that enemy with a view to delaying his army or for other reasons. But it is easy to understand, in view of a disaster so great as that which occurred at Singapore, that people should be anxious to know whether anyone and, if so, who, is to blame for that disaster, and it is a matter into which at some future dale some future Government may order an inquiry. But so far as the Government are concerned, after giving the matter the most careful consideration they can, they have decided that such an investigation would not be in the best interest of the effective prosecution of the war, and in this regard a number of matters have to be taken into consideration.
Firstly, it has been generally accepted by everyone in the House who has 334 spoken upon this—and indeed it is an obvious fact—that no inquiry could be conducted among those persons who have unfortunately fallen into the hands of the Japanese at Singapore. Secondly, it is also generally accepted that at a moment so critical for the defence of India it would be madness to plunge the Commander-in-Chief there, General Wavell, who was formerly Commander-in-Chief of the ABDA area, and so responsible for Singapore, into the details of an inquiry which would be partly concerned with his competence as Commander-in-Chief in the ABDA area if anyone questioned that competence. To attempt to enter upon an inquiry which admitted those two vital areas of investigation would not only be idle but would be most unfair to General Wavell and those who were in local command or control in Singapore. But there are other objections to such an inquiry. If it were to be held, it would inevitably occupy the already overburdened time of the Chiefs of Staff in this country, and of the Prime Minister, and of a great many subordinate officers in various Departments, and would introduce an element of disquiet which would certainly militate against the efficiency of those officers carrying on the war.
There is a final danger. At Singapore there were, besides the British troops, Indian troops and Australian troops, and in such circumstances as intervened at Singapore there is always a possibility of some degree of mutual recrimination in such an inquiry between the various nationalities, which would be highly disturbing to the continued friendly working of these nations in co-operation. On the other side of the balance, there seems to be nothing more than the satisfaction of placing the blame, if blame there be, and of dealing with the person or persons who may be concerned in whatever way is considered right. So far as learning from the mistakes of what happened at Singapore is concerned, that is a matter which has been studied by those responsible within the limits of the information available, much of which, unfortunately, is contradictory, as, no doubt, Members know from what they have heard. Steps will be taken, without doubt, by the Commander-in-Chief in India to apply, in his struggle with the Japanese, any lessons which can be learned from those events in Malaya and in Singapore. The 335 right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) and the hon. Member for Seaham both asked me about India, I am not going to say anything more on the political side, which I dealt with very fully—
§ Mr. Shinwell
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman going to say anything at all about the Chancellor of the Duchy?
§ Sir S. Cripps
With regard to the Chancellor of the Duchy, the position is exactly the same as with regard to any other witness. It would not be right to have a statement from one side, possibly, or from one person, with one point of view, without giving other people a similar opportunity of making their statements.
§ Mr. Shinwell
That is not the point. Has the Chancellor of the Duchy made a report to the Government? If he has, can we be furnished with the facts?
§ Sir S. Cripps
I understand that there has been an interim report, but I think it was made while I was away in India. I was coming to the question of India. I was saying that I could not talk again about the political point of view, except to say this: I and others have stated expressly that the Government have not in any sense closed the door in regard to India. We are only too anxious that the matter should be settled, at any time when a settlement seems possible. But the Government cannot put forward any further proposals, because the proposals they have put forward they believe to be the best that they could put forward. So far as the defence of India is concerned, about which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield asked me, I am quite sure that he does not expect me to say anything about the disposition of troops, or anything of that kind. We have accepted the full responsibility for defending India, in association with Indians, so far as they will help us in that task. We are doing our utmost. While out there, I did my utmost to see that the necessary implements were sent in order that that defence might be effective.
I come to one other question, which was raised by a number of Members, including the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha). That is the question of the 336 balance of air and military power, and also of the lack of air support from which troops have suffered in a number of cases. That point has been linked up with a doubt whether our bomber policy is really a wise one, which doubt was voiced by the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes). The House will bear in mind that there is a long gap in time between decisions to build certain aeroplanes and their coming into full production, and also that it is essential, at certain periods, to stick with some steadfastness to the production of specified types already in production, so as not to diminish the output by change-over of type. Within those limits, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air said to-day, orders were given as long ago as 1940, for instance, for dive-bombers. The reason why those have not come forward is obviously not a matter into which I could go in public, but so far no great quantity of them has been delivered. But that is proof that the Air Ministry is not taking a rigid attitude against a particular type of machine. I can assure the House that this question of type of machine is constantly under review, in the light of the strategy of the air as it develops, but the fact is that, as to both tanks and aeroplanes, production, although now large, is not as yet by any means as large as we could absorb if we were to deliver all the demands coming from all the theatres of war. It will not be until the help of the United States—
§ Sir S. Cripps
We have not enough to meet all the demands coming from all the theatres of war. If we were to give the Commander-in-Chief, and every officer commanding, everything he asked for, we should want a great deal more. We have been, from that point of view, suffering from a shortage on all fronts, compared with the demands which have come from the officers in charge in these areas, and, inevitably, the shortage has been more in some areas than in others. One or two hon. Members have suggested that this shortage might have been repaired to some extent if we had not sent so much to Russia. That shows appreciation of the fact—and it is the fact—that the War Cabinet has to decide often between a number of pressing demands as to which shall have the 337 priority of those demands. The War Cabinet decided that our Russian Allies, who are in the heart of the battle, should have priority with regard to the quantities which we had promised them at Moscow. That policy to assist Russia continues to-day. We have come to the decision because we realise that the Russian Armies, with the most tremendous sacrifice are holding the bulk of the German armies to-day, and a great proportion of their air force too, and thereby saving us directly from the danger of attack and invasion in this country. It seemed to us that no price was too high to pay for the continued support of this gallant Russian effort, even though it might endanger parts of our own territory, since it was protecting the vital heart of our resistance in Great Britain itself. It is not right to assume, as some people do, that the Russians would get on just as well without our help or that of the United States of America.
The contribution in material has been sufficiently considerable to be of real assistance to the Russians, and the contribution in comradeship to a gallant and fighting Ally is also something which can never be ignored. In this relation I should like, at any rate, first to mention the question of bombing attacks on Germany. It is true that at the time when we were fighting alone this seemed to be the one way in which we could take offensive action against Germany and bring home to the German people the fact that they were engaged in a struggle which would affect their lives as they were affecting the lives of other nations. That stage has now passed, and, in the light of the changed circumstances, the whole policy has been under constant review. It is a mistake to think that the whole of the Bomber Force is being utilised from the metropolitan base for the bombing of Germany. There are many other theatres of war where bombers are operating, and will operate, both independently and with naval and military forces. Nevertheless, the value of the bombing of Germany must not be under-estimated. Not only is it destructive of Germany's industrial effort, not only does it have a material effect upon the morale of the German people, 338 but also it engages in Germany and away from the Russian front great forces on air defence of all kinds and considerable forces of fighters, and, when possible for the Germans, of retaliatory bombers. It is, in our view, of material assistance to the Russian resistance, and it is the best way in which we can give that assistance, until such time as we are able to make a carefully planned attack upon the Continent of Europe, which we intend to do. The House can be satisfied that this question of the bombing of Germany is not a question of first principle but part of our strategy, which is interlinked with the whole strategy in all theatres of war and is constantly being reconsidered in the light of our activities in every area of combat. It is, I hope, part of the strategy which proves the falsity of the enemy propaganda that we expect someone to win the war for us—a propaganda I was sorry to hear encouraged by the hon. Member for Kidderminster yesterday.
I have been constrained by the clock to cover only a very narrow area of military and strategical matters, but the House must not think that the mind of the Government is so concentrated upon these factors that it fails to observe the very great importance of many other fields which have been touched upon in the course of this Debate. We are fully aware of the vastness of the task which must lie before any Government which seeks to lead our people to that victory upon which we are all determined. Home front propaganda, foreign relations, and other equally important matters must play their full part in the grand strategy of our conquest. We base our strength now, as the Governments of Great Britain always have throughout history, upon the support of Parliament and of the people, and while that support is given to us, as it has been in the past and as it is now, we shall listen to and consider the observations and criticisms of those in this House who, we are certain, wish only to help towards our ultimate and common goal of victory.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.